Twitter’s user manipulation

Social media sites keep deciding that the key to success is to be more like Facebook. It never works. I have no idea why Facebook is so popular, but no one’s improved their competitive position by emulating its most annoying features. Now Twitter is trying anyway. This bothers me because I’ve found Twitter more useful and less bothersome than the alternatives.

Here’s the official word from Twitter:

Tweets you are likely to care about most will show up first in your timeline. We choose them based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more. You can find instructions for how to turn off this behavior here.

Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow.

Both of these are new behavior. Previously Twitter presented Tweets in chronological order, apart from a “While you were away” feature that you could override by reloading the page, and added “promoted tweets” only as paid advertisements, not because someone at Twitter decided it was “popular or relevant.” (Always be suspicious of the word “relevant” when it isn’t followed by “to.”)

A lot of news articles are claiming these are opt-in features, but Twitter’s own help page implies they’re the default. So far I haven’t seen clear indications of a change, but this kind of manipulation can be tricky to spot. I also haven’t seen the alleged setting for turning off this behavior my settings, so it may not even be opt-out. However, in the past changes in Twitter haven’t shown up at the same time for all users, so it may have just not hit my account yet.

Twitter is too useful for me to give up, and there may be ways to work around it. I may need to resort to viewing just lists. There are people who follow tens of thousands of others, and I’m sure they rely on something other than the fire hose to read what they want.

But why did Twitter have to do this? The users have been overwhelmingly against changes of this kind, yet the management seems to think they’ll improve its revenue. I suppose they want to push high-profile accounts, which they’ll find ways to turn into revenue. It’ll work as well for Twitter as it does for Google+, I think.

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