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Tweet Ranking: Twitter's Algorithmic Timeline

I think it's safe to say that twitter is not going to make a permanent change that will alienate all its user's. But, it also wouldn't be the first time that a social network made a misstep. Looking at the reaction to this potential change it's clearly something that a lot of people feel very strongly about. So I thought I'd do a quick poll to see where everyone stands. Go ahead and give your 2 cents..

tweet ranking

What about real-time?

Twitter needs to move to smarter timelines as the quantity of tweets continue to snowball. The only question is, how smart? Facebook went the whole hog, and no one is complaining anymore. But can twitter travel the same road, or will it undermine its real-time nature? Can it find a middle road that gives everyone more control, while retaining fidelity? As is always the case, users will resist the change, the platform will forge ahead, and we will end up somewhere in the middle.


We don't quite know how it will look yet, besides a few unverified screenshots floating around. It will probably look quite similar to the current timeline, except that you'll notice much higher retweet and like counts, and the timestamps will be out of order. It's possible that they will pop a small icon next to the time or in the tweet somewhere showing it's a popular elevated tweet. Or perhaps there will be a small line next to the tweet, similar to the blue conversation line used today. Maybe there won't be any indication shown.

I would also expect that there will be a way to shuffle back into reverse chronological order very easily, such as through pull-to-refresh. Talk is that it will also have an opt-out option (maybe in the settings page). Who knows, at this stage it's all subject to change.

Easier to be heard?

The real question is not what this means for your own timeline, but rather what it means for your audience. Will it make it easier or harder for you to get your message across? How will your tweeting behaviour need to change?

There is a good chance that if you are strategic in your approach then you may be a winner in this zero-sum game. Rather than sending a link out multiple times you may get better results by sending it once and building some momentum behind that single tweet. If you have worked hard to build an audience then your tweets may get enough engagement to be elevated above the rest quicker too.

It will be interesting to see how the algorithm changes over time, and what this means for users. You have to hope that if done right it will reward those who send out quality, entertaining, and informative tweets. If done poorly it will open a door for those that know how to game it.


Remember clickbait?

We are still living through the shocking, amazing, incredible, unbelievable, nightmare that is clickbait. Will people make their tweets even more sensationalist just to try and get people to click the links? Right now clickbait tweets have no ranking advantage over normal tweets. Twitter will need to make sure it stays this way if they want a smart timeline to work.

'Tweet ranking'

Yup, just putting this out there...

ranking tweet

We've seen this all before: search rankings, facebook newsfeed, digg, etc. As soon as you use a popularity metric to rank content then people will do whatever they can to game that metric. Most users will not be aware of this 'gaming' and will continue to read whatever is put in front of them. But a small core will start to focus on it intently.

You will have 'white hat' users who try and get their tweets to rank through honest effort, such as a higher focus on quality. And you will have 'black hat' users who push their tweets to top of timelines through dishonest manipulation, eg. using click farms. Twitter needs to be ready for this problem and keep the playing field even. 1% of their algorithm will need to focus on reordering the timeline, and 99% of of it will need to focus on fighting ranking abuse. The problem is, I don't think that 99% has been done yet...

TO: Timeline Optimization

TO, TTO, TEO, SEO - whatever you want to call it - is on it's way. It's possible that a whole new industry could pop up in this space. One specifically focused at getting tweets to 'rank' in timelines. A specialist can't influence time, but they CAN influence popularity. If there is a benefit to having your tweets rank higher in a timeline then there will be those with services to make it happen. Rightly or wrongly.

timeline optimization

Paul Rosania's Thoughts

Paul used to work at Twitter and was the product manager responsible for the home timeline. His thoughts on this are fascinating, and in my opinion spot-on. He puts forward that users will hardly notice the change, and that they will actually be much better off with it. But he doesn't get into the repercussions of a popularity based timeline, and how some users will try and 'game' it.


It's going to be an interesting few months..

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