Twitter has made a surprise change to how it shows tweets to its users, following a viral thread earlier today that discussed ways to reverse the platform’s algorithmic timeline. Now, when you uncheck the settings box reading “Show the best tweets first,” Twitter will completely revert your timeline to a non-algorithmic, reverse-chronological order, which is how Twitter was originally designed and operated for years until the company introduced a default algorithmic model in early 2016.
Prior to the change, unchecking the box would still result in the “in case you missed it” tweets, recommended tweets from people you didn’t follow, and tweets informing you when someone you do follow liked or interacted with someone else’s tweet. Twitter is now acknowledging that its users want more control over their timeline, and that the initial settings tool and how it functioned was not an adequate way to address this.
Twitter says it’s been planning this update for some time now. But it happens to arrive following a suggestion from Twitter user Emma Kinema this morning that muting certain strings of words — such as “suggest_recycled_tweet_inline” — could provide a roundabout way of removing suggested tweets and highlights that Twitter’s algorithmic pushed into your timeline. The tweet went viral, amassing more than 15,000 retweets and nearly 40,000 likes, and it clearly underlined a demand from users to have more control over what they see when they open the Twitter app. The company has confirmed to The Verge that the suggestion would not work fully for every user. Instead, Twitter is tweaking its timeline settings to be more transparent and to allow more user control while it works out a better solution going forward.
“We’ve learned that when showing the best Tweets first, people find Twitter more relevant and useful. However, we’ve heard feedback from people who at times prefer to see the most recent Tweets,” reads the company’s statement. “Our goal with the timeline is to balance showing you the most recent Tweets with the best Tweets you’re likely to care about, but we don’t always get this balance right.”
Twitter says it’s working on providing “an easily accessible way to switch between a timeline of Tweets that are most relevant for you and a timeline of the latest Tweets.” The company will be releasing that some time in the next few weeks, it says.
One thing that’s important to note here, however, is that a significant amount of the value we get out of Twitter today is indeed due to the company’s algorithmic timeline. More tweets go viral faster than ever before largely because Twitter’s automated software is able to help those tweets propagate through its network faster and farther, and because the algorithmic timeline keeps old tweets more relevant by resurfacing them in different contexts to different users.
The algorithmic timeline was initially conceived as a way to keep people more engaged by Twitter and more able to digest what happens on the platform, as it traditionally moves very quickly and became difficult to parse for new users. In addition to the algorithmic timeline, Twitter introduced Moments, which has since replaced the search field’s default screen and just appears as a highlights section labeled “What’s happening.” Both have been successful in injecting Twitter with more day-by-day relevance and giving its users a way to digest news, engage in more conversations, and just simply come into contact with more viral tweets from across the network. (It should be noted that boosting engagement on Twitter in turn boosts ad revenue, so there’s always been a business incentivize involved.)
Of course, these changes have also made Twitter more cumbersome for those who just want reverse-chronological timelines, and the settings toggle that would theoretically turn off the algorithmic timeline didn’t actually fully do that. It’s good to see Twitter respond to the criticism it’s received over the years, and it’s an approach more platform companies, like Instagram for example, could borrow from.
Hopefully, with the other, more granular customization options coming soon, Twitter users can craft a timeline that fits their needs. I love a good viral tweet every now and again, especially from accounts that I’m glad to have been exposed to. But liking a tweet and realizing its 18 hours old, or being unable to figure out when news is breaking because my timeline is mucked up by retweeted content and suggested tweets, made Twitter more unpleasant than it needed to be.
Update 9/17, 8:50PM ET: Clarified that Twitter has been planning this update for some time, and it was not in direct response to the viral tweet earlier today about muting certain keywords to disable Twitter’s algorithmic timeline.