Twitter was aflutter Super Bowl weekend following a Buzzfeed post that pointed to the possible adoption of algorithmic tweets on the microblogging site.
The technology is similar to what is in use on Facebook and LinkedIn in that it will use “algorithms to depict what the user wants to see,” according to AndroidHeadlines.com. “With an algorithmic news feed, it means that tweets won’t be in chronological order anymore. And you may be seeing tweets from the last few days at the top of your news feed.”
Twitter’s ever-passionate user base defined the day: #RIPTwittter.
While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweets reassures that algorithmic tweeting was not imminent, the consensus among Twitter’s core users was that it was a matter of if, not when, the social media platform will adopt the change. And by Wednesday of that week, the doomsayers were proved correct when Twitter blogged: “we’re excited to share a new timeline feature that helps you catch up on the best Tweets from people you follow.”
For many, this is yet another attack at the very fabric that makes Twitter great, its ability to connect user-defined communities in real-time to discuss news as it unfolds. This ranges the gamut from trivial discussion of advertisements during a sporting event, to wonky policy conversation around presidential debates.
While much virtual ink will be spilled about what this all means for Twitter, the debate has placed a renewed focus on the value of real-time engagement in social media platforms.
The good news to social media users that relish immediate interaction is that other platforms offer the benefits of an active user base posting, and engaging, in the instantaneous environment for which Twitter became famous.
Instagram– the platform of more than 300 million users provides a robust platform to post graphics and short descriptor text, which followers engage with via their phones. This channel is a great way to publish charts from a recent survey, or participation in an industry event. Like Twitter of yore, Instagram posts are displayed in reverse-chronological order, allowing user to see content as it is posted, rather than as determined relevant by an algorithmic model.
Snapchat – a good platform for temporary storytelling. Short snaps of information can be strung together and opened in sequential order to reveal a creative narrative arc. What one early user described as “Twitter combined with texting combined with crack,” the platform has seen uptake of its “stories” platform by users ranging from New York Times to NPR. The users are drawn to the immediacy of the platform and the unvarnished quality of the posts. But the audience must act fast, stories disappear after 24 hours.
Tumblr– the Yahoo-owned microblogging site, Tumblr provides control over photos, graphics, links and content in a short-form blogging framework. Tumblr is known as an incubator of social media trends—it is arguably the birthplace of social media’s renewed fascination of gifs—and a good platform for content in a social engagement environment. For active users of Twitter, it offers a familiarity with a feed that the user customizes through elective following, a “reblog” function, and a “like” heart. If you’re looking for an example of how charts, news and data can be combined into compelling Tumblr posts, look at how The Economist and I Love Charts have set up their feeds.
One common thread running through the real-time platforms is the “true” nature of the posts. Audiences are looking for authenticity from their media, and the social channels are seen delivering this in a way traditional media may have previously missed. In this is a lesson for Twitter and other platforms that may seek to “improve” the user experience: sometimes the audience loves the flaws more than the polish.
Eric Hazard is a director at Cognito where he helps financial companies tell interesting stories to the world. When he’s not at the office he enjoys hiking in New York’s Catskill mountains and amusing gifs of panda bears. Follow along on Twitter.