Twitter begins rolling out its algorithmic timeline, but it's opt-in—for now

Get a glimpse at the future of Twitter, whether you like it or not.

Twitter iOS App
Credit: Martyn Williams

After months of testing, rumors, and general user anxiety, Twitter is now employing an algorithm that displays some Tweets out of chronological order.

The feature, known as “Show me the best Tweets first,” gathers up older tweets that Twitter thinks you might have liked seeing, based on “engagement and other factors,” and pushes them to the top of the Timeline. Below this cluster of Tweets, users will still see their Timelines in reverse chronological order, and refreshing the Timeline will instantly make the algorithmic Tweets disappear. On some level, it’s a prioritized version of the “While you were away” that Twitter introduced a year ago.

Twitter has been testing the algorithmic Timeline since December, and has been talking about it for much longer. In a blog post, the company says that “people who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations, which is great for everyone.”

Still, the notion of replacing chronology with algorithms has touched a nerve among Twitter users, who’ve long feared that the social network might dilute its most unique properties and effectively become just another Facebook. When rumors of the algorithm’s rollout popped up over the weekend, #RIPTwitter became a worldwide trending topic. This prompted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to promise that the company was listening, and that it wouldn’t be introducing any drastic changes to the chronological timeline.

To that end, Twitter is rolling out its algorithm as an opt-in feature for now. Users can find it by heading to Settings on iOS, Android, or the web, looking for a new “Timeline” section, and enabling “Show me the best Tweets first.”

But in the coming weeks, after gathering more feedback from users, Twitter says it will turn on the algorithmic Timeline by default. At that point, users will have the option to disable it.

Why this matters: For many users, chronological order is one of Twitter’s defining features. While it does increase the odds of missing something important, it also gives users the ultimate say over what they want to see. The new algorithmic feature is Twitter’s attempt to strike a balance between these two interests, in a way that appeals to both seasoned users and newcomers. But the fear is that it could be just the beginning of bigger changes down the road.

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