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Twitter introducing algorithm-based timeline changes after all

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Twitter has announced a change that will elevate the "most important" tweets to the top of users' timelines, confirming reports about such a feature that caused a strong backlash among Twitter users over the weekend.

Thankfully, it doesn't seem all that bad.

The new feature, which will be opt-in when it launches on Thursday but which will become the default "in coming weeks", is an extension of the existing "while you were away" feature. 

Kicking in when the user first opens Twitter, an algorithm will curate a selection of tweets it thinks the user will be interested in and will display them at the top of the feed.

In a blog post, Twitter's senior engineering manager Mike Jahr said the feature was designed to drive user engagement.

"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," he said.


Jahr was careful to emphasise that the new experience would not make Twitter entirely algorithm-based - like Facebook - and that the new feature was offered in addition to the existing feed with which users are familiar.

"The Tweets you're most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline - still recent and in reverse chronological order," he said. 

"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."

Long-time Twitter fans were outraged late last week when a report from BuzzFeed blew the lid off plans for an "algorithmic timeline", expressing their displeasure using the instantly trending #RIPTwitter hashtag. 

At the time, Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey attempted to douse the flames.

 "Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow," Dorsey said. "We never planned to reorder timelines next week."

Then again, Twitter users were also outraged when the company replaced "favourites" with "likes".

While Twitter's core fanbase may disapprove even of small changes to the way the service works, listening to those users may no longer be the company's top priority.

Twitter has seen user growth slow ever since its initial public offering in 2013, and Dorsey has been tasked with moving beyond the hardcore collection of celebrities, journalists and media fiends who frequent the service by making it more palatable to the kind of gargantuan audience that Facebook enjoys. If that's the goal, we can expect many more changes - and outraged hashtag storms.

Immediate reaction to the new timeline change - which is certainly the most dramatic new feature introduced under Dorsey so far - was somewhat muted, given users had already braced for the worst earlier in the week.

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