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Twitter tests letting users follow topics in the same way they follow accounts

Twitter tests letting users follow topics in the same way they follow accounts


A new way to explore interests on Twitter, now testing on Android

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Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge

Twitter will begin allowing users to follow interests, the company said today, letting users see tweets about topics of their choosing inside the timeline. When the feature goes live, you’ll be able to follow topics including sports teams, celebrities, and television shows, with a selection of tweets about them inserted alongside tweets in your home feed.

Topics will be curated by Twitter, with individual tweets being identified through machine learning rather than editorial curation, the company said. For now, only sports-related interests can be followed, said Rob Bishop, a Twitter product manager. The feature is now being tested on Android.

The move represents Twitter’s latest effort to help users find the best content on the platform even if they don’t know which accounts to follow. For years, the company has sought to make it easier for people to find value in Twitter, which can be foreboding for newcomers. Previously, Twitter Moments allowed people to follow events such as the Oscars or a sports game.

One reason to restrict the interests that can be followed in the testing phase is to see how amplifying them via the new feature affects the overall Twitter experience. The company has been researching the bad incentives that Twitter can create, with the like and retweet often serving to promote outrage and polarization. It’s unclear whether algorithmic promotion of interests will behave differently than algorithmically promoted retweets. The underlying mechanics appear to be quite similar, at least on the surface.

Kayvon Beykpour, who leads Twitter’s product efforts, said that the company did not plan to create topics for everything its users might be interested in, suggesting it would be sensitive to how the product could be abused by bad actors.

You’ll also be able to mute topics, so if you’re following a TV show but haven’t seen the most recent episode, you can temporarily hide tweets about it from your feed.

In a different test, Twitter is exploring letting users set up separate lists within the app to follow their individual interests. In a demonstration, a product manager mixed keywords and some individual accounts to create a new list adjacent to the home feed and accessible via swiping. “We think that altogether this will make Twitter a more powerful interest platform,” said Wally Gurzynski, a product manager at the company.

Twitter made the announcement at an event with reporters today. Other plans in the work include searchable direct messages, the ability to re-order the photos in a tweet after you have attached them to a new post, and plans to add support for Apple’s Live Photos.