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Finally: Twitter, Inc. Wants to Show You the Best Tweets First

By Daniel Sparks - Feb 11, 2016 at 9:45PM

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Why did it take so long?

Twitter (TWTR -2.55%) is officially messing with the order of tweets in your timeline. Of course, this isn't the first time the company has done this.

The social network rolled out a recap of the most-important tweets to users about a year ago in a feature called "while you were away." But this time, Twitter's reorganization of tweets is more significant. Here's what there is to know.

Improved algorithms
Navigate to settings on Twitter's mobile app, or within Twitter's desktop platform, and users will be prompted with an option to turn on a new algorithmic approach to seeing the tweets that Twitter's algorithms think users want to see most.

"Show me the best Tweets first," reads a toggle within Twitter's settings. Users can either opt for the feature to be on or off.

Image source: Author.

How does the new algorithmic timeline work? A lot like "while you were away."

"We've applied a lot of the same algorithms to it," said Twitter, CEO Jack Dorsey during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday (via a Reuters transcript).

The company explained the new feature in a blog post on Wednesday.

Here's how it works. You flip on the feature in your settings; then when you open Twitter after being away for a while, the Tweets you're most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline -- still recent and in reverse chronological order. The rest of the Tweets will be displayed right underneath, also in reverse chronological order, as always. At any point, just pull-to-refresh to see all new Tweets at the top in the live, up-to-the-second experience you already know and love.

The "while you were away" feature will still exists. But users can expect this new reorganization of tweets to occur more frequently. Twitter will still take the opportunity to monetize this new product, serving up promoted tweets right in the middle of the tweets you care about most.

In short, Twitter is simply doing the best it can to help you see the tweets you care about most. This is what Facebook does with posts -- and it has worked great for the company.

Reducing confusion
The change to the way tweets are displayed is in line with management's efforts to simplify its service so that it's less confusing, potentially helping the company attract and retain more new users. "[W]e think there's a lot of opportunity in our product to fix some broken windows and some confusing aspects of our service that we know are inhibiting growth, and timeline is a big focus area for that," Dorsey explained during the company's earnings call.

Twitter headquarters. Image source: Twitter.

While it's not clear how much the new feature is serving to make the timeline less confusing, it does appear to be generating more engagement, according to early tests by Twitter.

"We've already seen that people who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations, which is great for everyone," wrote Twitter's senior engineering manager Mike Jahr in a bog post.

In light of the company's efforts to simplify its service, and make it more compelling for new users, while also trying to retain existing users, there's sure to be many more changes to the timeline. Going forward, it's likely that Twitter's changes to its timeline will begin to more closely resemble the frequency of changes Facebook rolls out to its timeline.

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