Twitter Algorithm

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Social Media users will have heard a lot about Facebook’s algorithm in recent times but how many know Twitter also utilises similar processes?

Twitter’s adoption of an algorithm has been a fairly recent enhancement and one some did not take kindly to however, with the speed at which the site operates and the number of tweets (estimated at 500,000,000 per day), it must be seen as an inevitable and sensible development. Without such a filter a users timeline can be flooded, within seconds, with tweets from all the accounts they follow. In the past users had to wade through to find those they have a greater interest in. Twitter wanted to make the process a more positive experience and have therefore adopted the algorithm style. Thankfully their algorithm is less draconian and limiting than Facebook’s, which severely reduces the number of people to whom posts are displayed. In addition, as will be discussed later in this article, use of the Twitter’s algorithm is not mandatory.

How the Algorithm Operates

Twitter uses a scoring system to determine which tweets, from the accounts the user follows, are most likely to be relevant or of interest. The system looks at three characteristics: The tweet; The tweet’s author; and The user.

The Tweet
  • It’s recency (how recently was it posted).
  • Whether an image or video are attached.
  • Total engagement (retweets, likes and comments).
The Tweet’s Author
  • Type of past interactions the user had with them.
  • Strength of the connection.
  • Origin of the relationship.
The User
  • Types of tweets user has engaged with in past.
  • How often they visit the site.
  • How much they use the site.

The Algorithmic Timeline

When opening twitter the user’s timeline will be organised into three main sections: Top Ranked Tweets; In Case You Missed It; and Reverse Chronological Order.

Top Ranked Tweets

Tweets which, utilising the scoring system referred to above, the Twitter algorithm determines a user is most likely to be interested in. These are displayed in time order.

In Case You Missed It

Tweets from accounts the user frequently engages with. However, whether these are displayed or not depends upon the number of ‘highly relevant’ tweets, since the last time the user opened their account, the algorithm detects.

Reverse Chronological Order

This is where a user will see their regular Twitter feed. In other words the newest tweets from accounts they follow. These are always shown in reverse order i.e. the newest is displayed first. This section is always ordered after the previous two.

Note: Unlike the Facebook algorithm, Twitter will always, unless specifically addressed to individual accounts or people, display ALL tweets to ALL users of the accounts they follow. It should also be noted Twitter management and development have stated the system will always remain ‘live and real-time’.

Miscellaneous Tweets

Occasionally tweets from accounts the user does not follow may show up in their timeline. These are ones Twitter considers will make the user’s timeline more relevant and interesting.

Sometimes sponsored (advertising) tweets are also included. The user may determine which of these are displayed by using the dropdown menu available from clicking on the ellipsis displayed to the right of the tweet.

Turning Off Algorithm

As mentioned earlier the use of Twitter’s algorithm is not mandatory. Some users prefer to stick with the traditional timeline flow in which, other than time of posting, there is no discrimination between tweets and all are shown in reverse chronological order. Twitter accepts this and has provided the option for users to turn the algorithm process off.

Twitter management and development have made clear there are likely to be constant changes to the system as they seek to improve user experience. This also appears to impact how users access various settings. As at the time of writing the option to turn off the algorithm may be actioned by:

  1. clicking on the ✧ symbol displayed at the top of timelines; and
  2. selecting ‘See Latest Tweets Instead’.

Note 1: As stated in the displayed panel, the system will switch back to utilising the algorithm after the user has been away for a while.

Note 2: Within the panel there is also an option to go to the content preferences settings. However, as at the time of writing, the option to deselect or select ‘Show me the best Tweets first’ appears to no longer exist.

Note 3: Within settings there is an option for adverts to be personalised to the user’s own interests.

Conclusion

It cannot be denied Twitter’s algorithm has been designed to improve relevance and user experience for which people should be grateful. However, in acknowledgement and consideration of individual preferences, the option to alter settings is provided.

Twitter have reassured the system will remain ‘live and real-time’ and all tweets will be displayed to all followers unless addressed to individual accounts by prefacing the tweet with @username. In the latter instance only the addressee and those who follow both accounts will see the tweet.

One point not mentioned above is, to get the best out of Twitter users should be regularly active.

Facebook’s algorithm has been mentioned consequently, some readers of this article may be interested in a previous article that discussed some far reaching, and still relevant, changes Facebook made to its algorithm in 2018. Click here to access the article.


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