“It’s coming, whether you like it or not”, said Twitter CFO Anthony Noto. Twitter is working on an algorithm to mimic Facebook’s filtered feeds concept. “If you think about our search capabilities we have a great data set of topical information about topical tweets,” Noto said. This, he says, opens up the opportunity for “an algorithm that delivers the depth and breadth of the content we have on a specific topic and then eventually as it relates to people.”
With a user base of about 1.5 billion, Facebook is over 5 times the size of Twitter in this aspect. Plus, the engagement levels per post on Facebook must leave Twitter’s mouth watering. The declaration by Twitter’s CFO has evoked mixed reactions, but most loyalists don’t appear happy.
Apart from expanding its user base, Twitter may be working on algorithms to increase monetization and revenue generation. While they didn’t use algorithms until last year, Twitter recently has started experimenting with showing favorited tweets on users’ timelines. They also have redefined what relevant tweets, which will show up on users’ timelines, mean. The statement on 5th September was another step in the direction towards becoming Facebook Part II.
Recently Facebook’s CFO David Ebersman let slip that Facebook was “close to fully penetrated among teens” in North America, sending its share value plunging. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook right now is the 55-64 age group. More teens are spending less time on the social media platform because their parents (and grandparents) are now on it. Plus Facebook’s repeated algorithm changes have not augured too well with users. Instead of protesting, they merely have started spending less time on the platform. Plus it’s cooler to say “I don’t visit Facebook as much these days.” They’re seen more on Snapchat and Instagram.
Walking on the same lines may spell the same things for Twitter. The platform has always been a source of breaking news; one which reporters, bloggers and publishers flock to for different angles on their stories. Filtering the feeds will compromise the rawness – something which is a core feature of Twitter. Something which allows users to see what they want to see. This unfiltered stream is how news catches steam and goes viral on Twitter. While most Facebook users are blissfully unaware of happenings, social causes and issues take Twitter by storm, and then are pilfered onto Facebook.
I must admit, when I started using Twitter in 2012, I thought displaying relevant content was a good idea. I had stayed away from the platform because making sense of the feeds on my timeline was difficult. I yearned for tweets which were interesting and relevant. However, once I discovered the lists feature, that became easy. And the timeline became my single most reliable source for traffic updates and latest news.
In making itself a clone of Facebook, Twitter will cash in on short term gains, but find pains in the long run. A lot of people have already declared that they will leave Twitter if this algorithm is deployed. While such harsh steps may not be taken, users may spend less and less time on the platform. Twitter isn’t ready to be able to sustain the loss of a few million users (many of whom are influential) for engagement on the website.