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Jack Dorsey calms #RIPTwitter with carefully worded non-denial

A new timeline isnt coming next week, says the Twitter executive. As for the week after, though, anything could happen

Twitter users, dont worry: the sites co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey has hit back at rumours suggesting the company will introduce an algorithmic timeline. He unambiguously stated that the company never planned to reorder timelines.

Or, to put his statement in its full context: We never planned to reorder timelines next week. Which, as denials go, provides quite a lot of wiggle room.

There is a reason for the curiously specific denial, which is that Dorsey was responding to a report from Buzzfeed News that said Twitter could introduce an algorithmic timeline as soon as next week.

That report said that twitter was planning to reorder tweets in users timelines based on what the companys algorithm thought they would most like to see. If true, it would be a departure from the strictly chronological timeline that made Twitters name. That timeline is held by many users to be the services killer feature, but is also widely seen as a major factor keeping new users from joining up, since it renders it easy to miss the best content on the site.

Buzzfeeds report sparked a meltdown on the social network, sending the hashtag #RIPTwitter trending, and forcing Dorseys hand. Before the day was out, he had tweeted a statement, denying the story sort of.

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

Hello Twitter! Regarding #RIPTwitter: I want you all to know we’re always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week.

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y.

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

Look at “while you were away” at the top of your TL. Tweets you missed from people you follow. Pull to refresh to go back to real-time.

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

I *love* real-time. We love the live stream. It’s us. And we’re going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live!

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

Twitter can help make connections in real-time based on dynamic interests and topics, rather than a static social/friend graph. We get it.

Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

Thank you all for your passion and trust. We will continue to work to earn it, and we will continue to listen, and talk!

Dorseys carefully worded denial doesnt rule out the possibility that Twitter is planning a major refresh of how its service would work. In fact, a new version of the Twitter timeline which was tested on my own feed by the company in the last few weeks would fit Dorseys description to the letter, while still marking a major change for the service.


An example of my own Twitter timeline on 13 January. The tweet at the bottom of the feed was actually sent first. Photograph: Alex Hern

That test version of the timeline is essentially Twitters While You Were Away box, which algorithmically selects five to 10 tweets from a users timeline, but expanded to cover the entire timeline. If I hadnt logged on for a while, my timeline would load 200 tweets, as it normally does.

But rather than being the most recent 200 tweets presented in reverse chronological order, they would be apparently algorithmically picked, and presented in a vaguely structured, non-chronological order, starting with recent tweets, then moving back in time to older tweets, and finishing again with recent ones.

As Dorsey suggests will remain the norm, if I scrolled to the top of the feed and refreshed, the newest tweets were then posted in chronological order. But there was no way, in the mobile app, to see the older tweets in their normal order.

The motivation is clear: the feed that was tested on me would provide a much better experience for new users who check the service infrequently and thus run the risk of missing the best tweets from those they follow a risk that Facebook, with its fully algorithmic feed, doesnt experience.

But the experience of being presented tweets out of their natural context was still jarring. Unlike Facebook posts, tweets are often written with an understanding that theyll be read in the context of those sent before and after them a context that was ripped away.

It should be stressed that what I experienced was apparently just a test, and that my stream is now back to normal. Nonetheless, the test feed I was shown mirrors that which technology site The Verge suggests could be the new normal. There is one difference, however: the Verge reports that users will be allowed to opt out of the new timeline, but when it was presented to me, no opt-out was available.

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