Greg Morris

Designer, Pretend Photographer, Dad

An Algorithm Isn’t Always The Way

It’s very unlike the world of Twitter to lose its mind when the company changes something about its app or service. More words were written about the move to 240 characters than the world needed, but most users just get used to the noise. Some throw all the toys out the pram and quit. Perhaps move to Mastodon for an hour and come back, but as a Twitter developer, you have to expect the outrage when you mess with the timeline.

For some strange reason, Twitter have been obsessed with forcing users, or at least fooling them, to use their ‘home’ feed for a very long time. One not composed of reverse chronological tweets. Instead, filled with spammy content to boost engagement, 7 different tweets that someone you forgot you followed liked, and random topics someone somewhere decided you might not hate.

This week was no different. The big brains at the blue bird decided instead of being able to tap an icon and switch between the way your timeline displays, both need to be pinned side by side.

There’s no denying that, when social networks get to a certain size, some algorithmic sorting and pruning is recommended. Simply so users can deal with the sheer value of information. It’s simply a product of scale that needs to addressed at some point or another. With that said, Twitter seems to be a different breed of social network. It doesn’t fit the mould of others (with perhaps an exception also made for Instagram) and needs to hang on to its free flowing, constantly updating nature.

Twitter has been the birthplace of some of the best movements to be enabled by social media, and indeed some of the worst issues plaguing society. Both ends of this scale are caused and enabled by an always on chronological timeline. Perhaps something does need to be done, but sorting a Twitter feed by a ranking algorithm is not it. Boosting posts by popularity could potentially lead to a much worse place.

If there is one thing that Twitter users engage with is drama, and surfacing the posts that are engaged with the most is just asking for trouble. This is without mentioning that a move towards algorithmic sorting is simply not what users want. Thankfully the rollback came quicker than I expected, but no doubt is to be followed up by a move similarly deaf to its users desires.

Algorithms, machine learning and development smarts improve numerous tech issues, but Twitter is not one of them. To kill the reverse chronological feed is to kill something at the very core of its nature. Perhaps one day, hopefully when it is not too late, Twitter will listen.

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