In its latest round of experiments with the platform, Twitter has begun filling people’s timelines with tweets that their friends have favorited. The feature, while similar to a retweet, is much more like Facebook’s news feed and its endless stream of user likes. Since being tested, the reaction to the experiment has been mostly negative.
Critics of the experiment argue that it is an affront to the very nature of Twitter itself. While Facebook’s news feed has long been a collection of statuses, photos and advertisements determined by an algorithm, Twitter’s timeline is different. Since the beginning, the timeline has allowed users to follow the brands, companies, organizations, celebrities and bloggers that they choose. This resulted in a much more curated experience that allowed user’s to determine the stream of information they wanted to receive. If they like a tweet, then they validate that by taking one of three actions: favoriting, retweeting or replying.
By changing the action of a favorite to something more like a retweet lessens the impact of a favorited tweet. Currently, favoriting someone’s tweet is a much more personal, nuanced action. If every time a user favorites a tweet and it shows up in another user’s timeline then the action of favoriting loses its significance.
The cause for a potential shift to displaying tweets that friends have favorited in a users timeline is probably a monetary one. If Twitter opens up the timeline to sources other than just the main user, or if it too implements an algorithm within the timeline to sort through information, this represents a huge opportunity for marketers.
Marketers already have the option to run promoted tweets and twitter cards through Twitter’s ad platform, but that reach is, ultimately, contained to a limited audience. By opening up the timeline, marketer’s messages have the potential to spread to not just the audience that they paid to reach, but also that entire audience’s follower list. Meaning that a promoted tweet campaign, which only has an estimated 50,000 impressions, could easily reach up into the millions. Granted, promoted tweets already have the potential to reach an audience of that size through engagement (the more people RT, favorite, and reply the higher the reach), a more open timeline puts the message in front of more leads faster.
At the end of the day, this is simply an experiment by Twitter, one of many in a long line of tweaks and updates that may never see the light of day. What is certain is that, with Twitter’s IPO, any way to increase ad revenue, user and engagement will likely result in more changes to the platform, whether existing users like them or not.