This post originally published on February 18, 2016. We’ve updated it here with the latest change to Twitter’s algorithm-based timeline

Over recent months, there has been a lot of debate about the future of Twitter.

Growth has halted, share prices have fallen, and some are even saying #RIPTwitter.

With all that in mind, the future of Twitter still feels extremely exciting, though. It feels like something big is afoot. And in order to kickstart growth and get people excited again, Twitter has been rolling out a range of great new features and updates.

In this post, I’d love to give you the lowdown on Twitter’s newest features and also share some thoughts on where it may be heading in the future.

Let’s get started! 🚀

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Best Tweets first

There have been rumours that Twitter could introduce an algorithmic timeline for years. Some users feel it’s just what Twitter needs, whereas others aren’t so sure, believing it could bring an end to the network.

Talking Point: I’d love to hear your thoughts on a fully algorithmic timeline in the comments below this post, do you feel it would make or break Twitter?

Though a fully revamped algorithmic feed was rumoured, with this update, rather than changing the feed altogether, Twitter is essentially making its ‘while you were away feature‘ a little more prominent.

This new timeline feature surfaces tweets Twitter recommends, rather than showing your the time-ordered list of tweets you’d typically see upon logging in to Twitter.

It’s designed to help users catch up on the most important tweets relevant to their interests. And Twitter says they’ve already seen that people who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations.

Mike Jahr explains more about this update on the Twitter blog:

Here’s how it works. You flip on the feature in your settings; then when you open Twitter after being away for a while, the Tweets you’re most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline – still recent and in reverse chronological order. 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.

Update: Twitter is now turning this feature on for everyone

As reported by The Next Web on March 17, Twitter added a bullet point to its feed documentation explaining that the “best Tweets first” behavior must be switched off, rather than on:

Tweets you are likely to care about most will show up first in your timeline. We choose them based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more. You can find instructions for how to turn off this behavior here.

If you aren’t enjoying an algorithm-based timeline on Twitter, this feature can easily be turned off from your Twitter settings.

How to switch this feature on and off

This feature is completely optional and can be switched off by heading into the timeline section of your settings and deselecting the ‘Show me the best Tweets first’ option.

Here’s how the option looks on desktop:

best tweets

On iOS:

Timeline_iOS_Settings

And on Android:

Timeline_Android

GIF search

GIFs are taking over the world. And last year, people shared over 100 million GIFs on Twitter.

The GIF search feature now makes sharing GIFs in Tweets and Direct Messages even easier. The new GIF search button sits right between the photo and polls options in the Tweet composer, and in DMs, it’s just to the right of the photo button.

The video in the below Tweet shows you how it works:

 

Curious how to best use animated GIFs? Check out our guide here.

Periscope broadcasts live on Twitter

Since Periscope launched last year, people have created over 100 million live broadcasts.

Now, thanks to a recent update, Periscope broadcasts will be shown live within a tweet. Meaning users will no longer have to click on a link and open the Periscope app to view a broadcast.

When you tap on a Periscope video from your Twitter timeline, it will now go full-screen and show Periscope comments and hearts from other viewers. You don’t need the Periscope app or even a Periscope account.

Here’s an example of how it works:

 

In their post announcing the update, Periscope explain:

For broadcasters, this means you can reach the massive Twitter audience. And for everyone on Twitter, there’s now a richer experience in your home timeline, search results, and on anyone’s profile who’s shared a Periscope.

This feels like an excellent way to add another dimension to the Twitter timeline.

This feature has been launched on Twitter for iOS, with updates on Twitter for Android and the web in the pipeline.

Polls

Twitter is the Internet’s cocktail party. A great place to gather, converse and also share opinions.

With the addition of Polls, Twitter made to even easier to collect opinions from your audience. 

Anyone can now set up a Poll lasting up to 24 hours, and below you can see how they look:

Polls are limited to four answer options, and tweeters are informed of how long is left to vote, and how many people have voted — as well as the results in percentage.

You can find out more about Twitter Polls and how to get the most of them here in our ‘Complete Guide to Twitter Polls‘.

Hearts

Favorites are now likes. Stars have become hearts.

The move from favorites to likes was made to make Twitter easier to understand for newcomers, as Akarshan Kumar explains on the Twitter blog:

We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes. We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.

The heart, is a universal symbol, and the ‘like’ was used across many apps such as Instagram, Facebook and Periscope before being adopted by Twitter.

A ‘like’ feels more expressive and allows users to convey a wider range of emotions. Something that Kevan dived into a little in our post about Twitter’s change to hearts:

It’s perhaps a bit of semantics, but it seems that before there was only the one option to “favorite” something, which had a rather specific type of feel to the action. “Liking” a tweet seems to open up a huge variety of possibilities for the emotion behind the like.

Coming soon

Changes to @replies (and other confusing rules)

A number of Twitter’s recent updates have felt like attempts to make the product more straightforward and easy-to-understand for new users.

However, there are still a few aspects of the platform that can cause confusion and issues for new and seasoned users alike.

On Twitter’s recent earnings call CEO Jack Dorsey explained:

“We have some really weird rules around conversations, around replies and .@name format that no one understands. We need to fix that. We are focusing a lot of our energy on refining the core product and looking at what is confusing about the service.”

In the coming months, I think it feels safe to say we’ll be seeing changes to the way mentions work in the timeline (with Tweets starting with an @name only being displayed to mutual followers of both accounts) and we may even see Twitter handles being removed from the 140 character limit.

First View adverts

Improving its ad product will be key to Twitter’s long-term success. And First View feels like a strong move in the network’s quest to deliver greater value for advertisers.

First View ads will allow marketers to guarantee they get the first promoted post shown in users Twitter timelines for a 24 hour period. Here’s how the ads will look:

First_viewgraphic_4

In Twitter’s own words:

First View helps marketers achieve significant audience reach with exclusive ownership of Twitter’s most valuable advertising real estate for a 24-hour period. When users first visit the Twitter app or log in to twitter.com, the top ad slot in the timelines will be a Promoted Video from that brand. Now, marketers can tell a powerful visual story across the Twitter audience.

First View is currently being rolled out gradually to managed Twitter ads clients in the US, and in the coming months, there are plans for it to be rolled out globally.

What does the future hold? 3 possibilities for Twitter

1. An entirely algorithmic feed

This concept polarizes users. But one thing is clear, Twitter has a signal-noise problem – much like Facebook before they introduced the Newsfeed algorithm.

As content overload becomes a bigger and bigger issue on Twitter, finding a way to sort feeds and show users the most interesting, engaging Tweets could be essential for the future of the platform.

Research into the unravelling of social networks like MySpace and Friendster found that while they may have had tens, and eventually hundreds, of millions of registered users, the bonds between these users weren’t particularly strong. And strong social networks are made up of strongly linked people, not large groups of strangers and acquaintances.

At the moment, on Twitter, the links and bonds between people don’t feel as strong as on other networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Prioritizing content from your closest friends, colleagues and accounts you regularly engage with could be a way to add strength to relationships on Twitter.

What do you think about Twitter moving to an algorithmic timeline? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below this post. 

2. Removing the 140 character limit

This is another concept that splits opinion.

Twitter’s 140 character limit has been around since the beginning and, for some; it’s what makes Twitter unique. For others, mainly new users, it can be a little confusing.

Removing the limit may feel like a huge shift, but the Twitter ecosystem has evolved so much in recent years with video, Polls, Cards and more while still keeping the “Twitter experience” more or less intact.

140 characters is a constraint we all work with, yet we’ve already started to find workarounds for it and much like the Retweet, this rumoured feature could be inspired by the way Twitter’s community use the product – as many people now take screenshots of text and tweet them as a way to share longer streams of text on Twitter.

Here’s an example of a screenshot used by Jack Dorsey to share some thoughts on the possibilities of expanding the character limit:

 

3. A separate messaging app

Messenger has been a huge hit for Facebook, breaking the 800 million user mark in 2015. Could Twitter see similar success with a messaging app of its own?

The signs certainly look promising. Since lifting the 140 character limit within DMs, Twitter noted a 61% growth in usage in Q4 2015 over the same time a year ago.

The messaging space is very crowded, with Facebook-owned platforms like Messenger and Whatsapp leading the way. But there could be enough room for Twitter to make a dent and grab attention with something of their own.

Over to you

Thanks for reading!

Have you tried out any of the new features in this post? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.

I’m also super excited to hear what you think the future holds for Twitter. What could they do to re-ignite growth and get users excited about the product?

 

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Written by Ash Read

Content crafter at Buffer. I’m fascinated by storytelling, entrepreneurship, and travel. When I’m not writing, you’ll usually find me on a football pitch or basketball court.

  • Vikash Koushik

    Awesome stuff, Ash!

    I wanted to share with you all that I live outside US and have been seeing “First View ads” for nearly a month now. Pretty strange. Probably they’re rolling it out in small batches and not based on the geographical location?

    I really hope that Jack finds the sweet spot and helps Twitter become big. Fingers crossed. 🙂

  • I just don’t think these changes are going to reverse the serious trend of Twitter not gaining users.

    No new users in the last 3 months of 2015. Recent layoffs. Stock price falling. And now the news on Moz today that they’ve fallen from #6 to #15 in Google’s search rankings.

    They’re in trouble. Allowing me to use more characters or see the feed a little differently isn’t going to change that.

    This company is in trouble. Worse, they don’t know what to do about it.

    • Twitter keeps making major mistakes that will drive their power users away.

      1) Removing share counts = no social proof, lower traffic sent from Twitter to user’s shares, fewer retweets and encourages us to spend our time somewhere else when we’d rather be on Twitter.

      2) Openly calling for censorship – this one sent many over the edge and has celebrities publicly saying they are leaving and “never coming back”. Both Twitter and Facebook have actively censored what gets shared there for years – but most weren’t aware of it and now they’ve made it a major issue.

  • I’d be disappointed to see them completely embrace the algorithmic approach to the feed, as my social network has grown primarily through six years on Twitter.

    In general, I like the other suggestions/hits at future features.

  • Tim H

    You can actually have polls that last days, at least for some accounts. I run @grhshockey and we authored a poll earlier this week and had it run for three days. Kind of nice to be able to adjust the length a little bit. That feature continues to grow.

  • BFElliott

    The problem is that Twitter is that they are making their site less user friendly.
    1) While You Were Away – not a fan. Always click that it wasn’t helpful. No option to disable the feature.
    2) The new optional timeline became the default, and I had to specifically un-default it. Ask if I want to opt-in, rather than shove me in and let me opt-out when I find the form in the cupboard in the basement behind the door marked “beware of the leopard”. Yes, I favor the true timeline. My interests and people I follow on twitter are wildly diverse, and I will decide which tweets are the best for mw myself.
    3) Shadowbanning. Now I can’t trust if my timeline is complete or if some of the people I follow are having some or all of their tweets hidden.
    4) I haven’t seen the First View ads yet. Hopefully I won’t, as I unchecked the boxes to autoplay ads. If I have 2 minutes to check twitter, and I’m in a public play, I really don’t want to have to rapidly lower the volume of the phone because a video ad played, and it wouldn’t help me with checking twitter quickly, either.
    5) Please let the separate Twitter App for direct messages be a bad joke. I refuse to get Facebook Messenger, and I would refuse this app too.

    The less fun, useful, and complete my twitter feed is, the less need I have for it. I cut back my use of Facebook when they went Top Stories, and try to read it at Most Recent whenever possible. Half the time I only find Facebook posts of value because the same person cross-posted to Twitter. My Facebook hid those messages. If Twitter continues its current course, I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

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  • I feel the biggest issue with the changes are less each change itself and more about how it feels like Twitter is trying to copy Facebook with the whole of the changes. Sure, hearts are not thumbs up hands, but it’s easy to see the similarities between Twitter’s new features and Facebook’s established features. It’s like they’re the new Zynga, just on a bigger field than Facebook’s apps.

  • m_willis

    Funny, reading this article you wouldn’t know Twitter had a web interface or third-party clients.

  • All platforms come and go… CompuServe, AOL, CIX, I can’t wait to see what comes after Twitter…

  • Great job summing up and looking deeper into the future of Twitter “upgrades” Ash! I Like the likes and hearts instead of favorites and stars. MUST keep 140 character limit! Have a fun Friday Ash and Bufferers and sharing with my network. 🙂

  • Derek Andrew Franks

    Great article! It’s an interesting time for the platform, and I think you covered it very well.

    I have a few thoughts:

    The 140 character constraint is such a great defining attribute of the channel. I fully support tweaks to it, especially eliminating Twitter handles (and maybe even images) from the character limit. I also love the creative ways of getting around the 140 character limit. But I think the character limitation makes the channel so unique, it shouldn’t be eliminated entirely (some more reason below).

    I do agree, they should try to solve the problem of less strong bonds between users. But they also should find a way to keep some of the elements of engagement that make it so useful. Twitter is my favorite marketing social tool because it’s easier to reach people who don’t know who you are, who would never have seen your posts if you didn’t pay to promote them. I also love being able to find and follow people that have similar interests, hobbies and passions as I do. The “connecting with strangers” aspect is a huge part of Twitter that you don’t get as much on Facebook– although you can achieve somewhat with places like Instagram. What could they do to continue this ability to connect with new people WHILE ALSO strengthening the bonds of users? It’s a fascinating question!

    I think that, along with the “less connected” feel of users, that Twitter is struggling to stand out as much as they did in the past. Moves that followed Facebook from a user experience sense are examples– such as creating a cover photo for profiles and designing the layout with the profile picture to being almost identical to FB. Things like the 140 character constraint are what make Twitter, Twitter. Doing away with it would again cause them to take another step toward a similarity to Facebook. Twitter should lead the charge into their own realm, not follow another platform. They should work on the design again, and find a way to make the in-platform user experience and design different from other channels as well as more simplistic (they clearly already know the latter).

    What do you think?

    • Ben Sawyer-Long

      I totally agree. I don’t think pictures should count towards the character limit, but completely getting rid of a limit would make it seem much more like Facebook, thereby kind of getting rid of what makes it unique

  • CMGRMelissa

    Thanks for explaining, Ash! Great article.

    I, for one, am happy to see the “While you were away” feature become more prominent. For someone who lives in a remote time zone (GMT +4), this is wonderful. I was missing a lot of great posts, and would spend my mornings sifting and scrolling down….. this new feature is much more efficient.

    I have heard varying reports about removing the character limit, including the fact that it will be a “click to expand” type of thing. I’m hoping that’s true.

    I really love Twitter. It’s such a great platform for meeting new people, learning, sharing, and having conversations. In my opinion, the Twitter community is by far the most open to connecting. It’s been wonderful as an American expat to wake up every morning and “meet” a bunch of new folks!

    Thanks again for this great post!

  • Ashmita Singhal

    thanks for sharing this post about twitter.

  • rokingshoking

    i like it.

  • rokingshoking
  • Twitter won’t die. It’s simplicity is its power. Adding while you were away is really good in my opinion. It allows novice users to get on board with it quickly as the feature is like Facebook. BUT it doesn’t ruin the chronological time-sensitive timeline that hardened users like.

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  • An algorithmic timeline suggests that Twitter needs to work like every other social network, which isn’t necessarily true. An algorithmic timeline will seriously damage the realtime nature of Twitter. Logging in and seeing essentially, “while you were away” may encourage more people to speak up on a topic, but if they’re coming to the conversation really late most of the network has moved on to something else. Rather than seeing new things, I’ll what, see more of the same topic over and over? The beauty of Twitter is how quickly it seems to move from one topic to another.

    It sucks sometimes to miss out on those conversations or come in late, but this is Twitter’s defining feature. I can’t see an algorithmic timeline making Twitter anything other than Facebook. Maybe that will appease shareholders, but I don’t want Twitter to be Facebook.

  • Laura S.

    I don’t really understand a lot of the jargon but what’s really bothering me and may send me away from Twitter is… I used to be able to see others replies under a tweet from someone I follow. Now I cannot. I used to be able to even read a conversation that I was involved in. Now I can only see my direct reply and theirs all separated, no others and in no conversation format. I can’t even read a conversation that I was in this morning. They are all just individual tweets. It is extremely frustrating and almost impossible to follow anything. I have no idea if my reply to someone I follow is 15x redundant because I can’t see any other replies now.

  • They must also focus on how to stop spamming. Found this – ” Twitter Going to Die Soon ” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/twitter-going-die-soon-see-why-mamta-chhikara

  • Laura Voskamp

    I’d love to see Twitter become more algorithmic – I find the “While You Were Away” feature is typically on point with the conversations I’m most interested in contributing to. It has already made it easier to sift through the mass of marketing messages that my feed has been filled with for years.

  • I don’t see why twitter can’t just add a different feed option that you can go to or toggle on or off. I would love to see an smart algorithm based feed (dare I say one that you can tweak yourself), but still keep the plain old reverse chronological order. I really like the while you were away feature too. Would be great to not have links and photolinks count towards your 140, but not counting @ names I would be worried about spam.

  • And twitter will become more and more like facebook…