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Twitter Has a New Timeline: What’s the Point?

It’s no secret that Twitter’s been struggling. Even though it commands a base of 320 million monthly active users, growth on that front has been relatively stagnant for the past several years, and analysts note that the company isn’t doing enough to differentiate itself in an ever-diversifying market of social media platforms. In response, Twitter has been releasing a bevy of new updates, some of which provide new functions and features, and others of which are purely aesthetic, to help restore and improve its status as a major social media player.

The Latest Change

Twitter’s latest change is its new “timeline” feature, which transforms the conventional way tweets are displayed on a user’s newsfeed. Under the traditional model, tweets would be displayed in a strictly chronological order, with the newest tweets at the top and extending downward to older and older territory.

Under the new model, tweets will be evaluated and sorted using a new algorithm based on relevance, so the tweets that are mostly likely to be important to you are featured at the top.

Twitter doesn’t explain much about this algorithm, but from what we can gather, it’s based on a number of factors, including:

Cumulatively, these factors will result in a “relevance-based” newsfeed, similar to Facebook’s current model. Users can also opt-out of this feature, reverting back to the old way of displaying tweets in strictly chronological order:

(Image Source: Brian Ries)

User Reactions

So far, reactions have been mixed. Some users are decrying the update as “killing” one of the only features that made Twitter special to begin with—the fact that it updates in real-time:

(Image Source: Heavy)

Other users have been more welcoming of the update, considering it a way to view more relevant content in a more efficient way. It’s hard to gauge exactly how the community is taking this as a whole—users haven’t started abandoning the platform entirely, but new users aren’t exactly flooding in, either. Ultimately, the change isn’t that significant—but Twitter hopes it’s enough to instill new confidence in some of its users. If it isn’t, it has plenty more in store.

Twitter Isn’t Slowing Down

This is just the latest change Twitter has offered its users. Soon, it plans to launch a “searchable GIF” feature that allows users to quickly and easily find animated GIFs relevant to their interests. The company traditionally posits these updates as “big changes” in the works, but once released, they seem little more than minor adjustments to the core platform.

So why is Twitter continuing to hammer out these relatively small updates?

The Downward Spiral

Though its users are still active, Twitter’s standing as a business keeps slipping further and further. Its stock price seems to hit new lows every month, and advertisers are starting to cautiously withdraw from the service. “Twitter is dead” articles litter social media news outlets, and even Twitter users themselves are starting to joke about Twitter being a “dead” platform.

(Image Source: Mashable)

There are several reasons why this might be the case, but the biggest seems to be Twitter’s lack of differentiation in the market. Think about what makes Twitter different from any other social media platform:

When Twitter launched back in 2006, these distinctions were new and exciting. Today, one seems more of a hindrance and a gimmick than a feature, two isn’t special, and three has opened the doors to widespread abuse problems.

In an effort to differentiate itself further, Twitter is resorting to these new updates. The idea is to give users a better, more strongly differentiated reason to continue using (or start using) the platform. In theory, this is the right thing to do from a business perspective; if something isn’t working, change it. But why is Twitter opting for these almost-innocuous, micro-updates rather than massive overhauls?

Small and Familiar Is Less Risky

Twitter needs to change, but it can’t risk alienating its current user base. A major change is risky, and could trigger a chain reaction that leads to a mass exodus from the platform. Two ways to mitigate this risk are making the updates smaller and less impactful, and making them similar to other platforms that are already doing well. For example, this timeline update replicates a formula that Facebook has been using for years. When you see updates like this, it shows Twitter is willing to change—but only in safe, measured ways.

How Twitter Could Fail

I’m not saying this will inevitably lead to Twitter’s eventual collapse, but it does open the door for that possibility. You’ve probably already figured out the main problem with this formula; if your goal is to differentiate yourself, making your changes safer by modeling them after existing success isn’t going to get the job done.

If Twitter wants to survive, it needs to take bigger risks. Yes, it might anger their users, but if Twitter wants to stick around—and keep reaping those marketing and advertising dollars—it’s a short-term sacrifice it’ll have to make.

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