Over the last couple of years, Twitter’s product managers have been looking at ways to improve customer experience. In particular, how to enable users to see more of what they are interested in. The two areas currently under development are: 1. A new Topics feature and 2. Enhancing the existing lists feature.
Topics is a new feature that has been slowly and quietly introduced since November 2019. It has in fact been so gently done many existing users will not have noticed. Traditionally users have had to search for people with similar interests to follow and then hope their tweets prove relevant. Of course, this has not always been the case meaning a lot of unwanted waffle crowds the users timeline. For example: someone with an interest in cricket may follow a cricketer but find most of the tweets are about their wife’s knitting designs (perhaps a silly example but one intended to highlight the issue).
Beside the usual ability to follow specific, individual, accounts users may now also follow topics which are designed to home-in on tweets relevant to the subject matter. This helps make their timeline far more interesting and relevant. Twitter has stated their overreaching goal, by giving users control over what shows up in their timeline, is to connect them with the tweets they want to see and thereby make their timeline more meaningful. This is a massive technical investment for Twitter that will change how the site looks and feels.
One of the greatest hurdles is deciding what constitutes a topic. A topic for sports is probably too broad but one dedicated to a specific team, or match, may be too constrained. There is also the fact current events and matches usually constitute breaking news that people will already be tweeting about with relevant hashtags. To deal with the conundrum, at least for now, Twitter has opted for a middle path where the content comprises ‘evergreen’ and ‘lasting pieces’ of information. Because of the controversy, sensitivity, and difficulties that can surround them, topics relating to politics and world affairs have been intentionally omitted from the initial rollout.
Wisely, Twitter has avoided a mass rollout of topics but will slowly add new ones as they identify appropriate subjects. This will be partially achieved by gauging which topics people follow and from the nature of popular tweets. Once the theme and content of a Topic has been nailed down users will be presented with some upfront details designed to help them decide if it is one that meets their interest. The developers emphasise Topics are not simply an aggregation of tweets they sanction. They will check a tweet is about the topic and is by someone who is known for tweeting about the subject. In addition, by means of artificial intelligence mechanics, Topics should be able to identify, and ignore, tweets that are off-topic. Further, for a tweet to be considered appropriate for inclusion, Twitter will also look at such things as likes and retweets but not randomly.
At present, it is not easy for a user to ensure a Topic is entirely relevant to them. To overcome this issue, development is in hand that will enable users to view the stream of tweets in a topic prior to deciding whether to follow it or not. It is also intended to identify individual tweets as belonging to a Topic in the same way as retweets or likes by people the user follows are identified (i.e., small text tag). Topics have also been integrated into the search system.
To access the new Topic feature, and find ones to follow, users need to:
- click the ‘More’ option at the bottom of the menu displayed to the left of their timeline;
- select the ‘Topics’ tab, at the top of the secondary menu displayed. (The ‘New! Follow Topics’ panel will then be displayed in place of the time line.);
- click the ‘Follow some Topics’ button. (A secondary panel will be displayed containing a high level list of available topics.);
- click the ‘+’ to the right. (A list of sub-topics is displayed.);
- click the ‘+’ to the right of a sub-topic. (A list of secondary sub-topics is displayed.);
- click the ‘Follow’ button to the right of the sub-topic(s) to be followed.
Note: To try and make their experience relevant and easier from the start, Twitter now asks new users to choose some topics as part of the initial sign-up process.
In essence, Topics should help all users (existing and new), eventually, enjoy Twitter in a more organised manner; primarily controlling it to meet their interests.
Some existing users may still not be aware of the Lists feature. This is how Twitter defines it:
‘A List is a curated group of Twitter accounts. You can create your own Lists or subscribe to Lists created by others. Viewing a List timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the accounts on that List.’
The feature has been available for more than ten years but, after initial implementation, there has been little, if any, real development. Twitter acknowledges lists are full of unfulfilled potential and that it is now time to address, and enhance, the feature.
As part of the current enhanced development process, Twitter has been looking at the kind of lists users create and, based upon what they find, provide better attuned recommendations of people and accounts to follow.
In a further attempt to make timelines more relevant, a facility enabling users to ‘pin’ lists to the top of their timeline was introduced in September 2019. Users simply have to click the pin symbol displayed to the right of the list name. (It appears this is on a slow roll out because the facility, as at the time of writing, is not currently available in the writer’s Twitter account.)
The Lists feature may be accessed from the menu displayed to the left of the timeline. Any existing lists will displayed in place of the time line together with a closed or open padlock to indicate whether the list is private or public. A new list may be added by clicking on the small page and + icon embedded in the top right corner.
Lists are a helpful way for users to home-in on tweets and accounts they consider will be of relevance and use to them.
Users will no doubt be pleased to know Twitter is earnestly seeking ways to improve the service and many may already be enjoying some of the enhancements already made. However, there are still a lot of things to sort and, as with anything new, there are potential pitfalls. Twitter acknowledges this and undertakes to deal with issues as they become apparent though, of course, they will do their best to avoid as many of these as possible. The aim is to add as many new, helpful, enhancements and features as they are identified consequently, users need to be patient if anything they would like to see has not appeared yet.
Disclaimer: Other than being users of the service, neither T. R. Robinson Publications nor T. R. Robinson have any affiliation to or with Twitter. Nor do either receive any remuneration for mentioning or referring to them.