Twitter Will Offer Selected Tweets to Keep Users Coming Back

Courtesy of the New York Times:

Twitter is trying to solve the information overload issue that some newcomers to its social media service say dissuades them from becoming regulars.

The company, based in San Francisco, announced on Wednesday that it would start showing a selection of tweets that a user who has been away from the service might want to see.

“There are lots of people on Twitter who follow hundreds or even thousands of accounts,” Jeff Seibert, Twitter’s senior director of product, said in an interview. “When they come back to Twitter, there’s actually too much for them to catch up on.”

Tweets in this update can come from any time, from minutes to hours ago. The idea is to put important tweets up top so the user does not have to wade through less interesting information.

It is a change from Twitter’s classic method of presenting tweets in reverse chronological order and could make it easier for people to find interesting conversations faster, which in turn may keep them coming back to the service more often.

“This is really about helping all these people get caught up,” Mr. Seibert said.

Later on Wednesday, Twitter is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter earnings. Investors will scrutinize its user numbers to see if they meet growth expectations. Adding more users and getting newcomers to keep coming back have been consistent Achilles’ heels for the company.

The idea of tweaking Twitter’s main timeline has been bandied about internally for years, and tackled in different ways. Twitter introduced “while you were away” about a year ago, which similarly brought back older tweets that could help users see conversations on the service that they had missed. Twitter also devoted an entirely different section of its app to discovering unearthed tweets and conversations that may be difficult to find for casual users.

But over the past few years, some inside Twitter have been reluctant to make any major changes, for fear of alienating the service’s most dedicated users or disturbing ad sales. Since even before Twitter’s initial public offering in 2013, the company’s revenue has grown at a healthy pace even as its user growth numbers have stalled.

Not all of the company’s concerns are unfounded. Last week, when news of potential changes to the product were reported by BuzzFeed News, Twitter users complained. A trending topic with the hashtag #RIPTwitter signaled what many believed to be the death of the Twitter service they had come to know.

To avoid another panic among its more loyal users, Twitter is carrying out the latest change slowly. Users will initially have the option to switch on the new feature in the settings menu before it becomes a default setting. Everyone who doesn’t like it will be able to turn it off.

“What we want to do is give everyone the opportunity to play with it on their own terms,” Mr. Seibert said.