Twitter is testing a new feature that creates an “instant timeline” for new users based on what those users’ friends (as collected from a smartphone’s contacts list) are already tweeting about.
The feature addresses a common complaint about Twitter: that it’s hard to know who to follow, which makes it harder for new users to suss out why they should even bother to use the service.
Now, instead of having to fumble about in search of accounts worth following, new users will get a better idea of why Twitter thinks it should join their list of must-visit social networks. A problem with which the embattled service has struggled for years might finally be solved.
The New York Times’ Vindu Goel said the feature managed to guess his interests fairly well, but he did complain that Twitter thought he might want to see tweets about sports, or from brands. (I was unable to test the new feature from myself when I tried to create a new account earlier.)
To which I would respond that Goel is basically complaining that the new “instant timelines” provide too accurate a view into what using Twitter will be like after the initial charm fades.
That’s when the sports tweets seem to dominate the service whenever there’s some kind of game, match, or other event; when the brands start to infiltrate users’ timeline with off-beat messages or promoted missives; and when the only thing anyone talks about is the media.
New users should know that going into the service. Half the time they’re going to watch as the media snarks out about the latest headlines. Another quarter of the time they’re going to see groan-worthy tweets from brands that should know better. The other quarter mixes the two.
People should know about this hell before Twitter manages to work its way into the lulls in a conversation, the lines at a grocery store, or the linoleum tiling of a bathroom floor. In that way it seems these new “instant timelines” are an honest feature.
Whether that’s going to be good for Twitter, which would probably prefer for its service to become something other than a vortex of “ironic” condescension and vitriol, is another story.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]