In recent weeks, Twitter has tested, announced and hinted at several Twitter timeline changes which could drastically change the look of your feed. Each of these stories have been met both dismay and excitement, depending on where you look. While it's not clear what these changes tell us about Twitter's long-term strategy, they do tell us that our timelines will likely soon start to look very different.
The following are some of the potential Twitter timeline changes and how they might affect your Twitter experience in the near future:
Tweets from people you don't follow
Throughout the summer, several users noted seeing Tweets from people they didn't follow appear in their timelines. These weren't retweets, but favorited messages from other people that they followed. This came as a shock to many people for two different reasons. First, people who are careful about who they followed were upset to see random users appearing in their feed. Second, many people treated their favorites as a means of bookmarking Tweets or quietly acknowledging a mention. To see those favorites put on display in other people's feeds was unexpected.
What does this mean for your timeline? The change itself is clearly an effort by Twitter to open up the timeline, making it easier for people to discover other users based on interactions with the people they already follow. And while this initial burst was only a test, it doesn't look good for the users who complained about the change. Twitter has actually formally changed its definition of "timeline" to accommodate this feature.
Their explanation of "What's in your home timeline" now includes the following: "Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that's popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don't follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting."In other words, expect people you don't follow to have a growing place in your timeline.
A filtered feed
Seeing other people's favorites in your timeline is just one example of a potential Twitter push towards a Facebook-style filtered feed. Twitter has been the holdout when it comes to filtering, generally allowing you to decide exactly what appears in your feed, and then presenting that information in reverse-chronological order. But soon your feed may take on a different character.
GigaOm recently reported on comments by Twitter's Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto who said: "Twitter's timeline is organized in reverse chronological order... but this "isn't the most relevant experience for a user... Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.""
Noto addressed the issue of important or good Tweets getting buried if a user is away from their account for a period of time. A filtered timeline would keep those Tweets and place them in the user's feed for the next time they opened it, just like your Facebook feed does with popular stories.
But, as GigaOm pointed out, this often means that stories happening in the moment don't get the same kind of attention. They used the example of the events in Ferguson this summer, which dominated Twitter feeds but only appeared sporadically on Facebook.
What does this mean for your timeline? Sooner rather than later you might be seeing post appear at the top of your feed based on your interests and what Twitter's algorithm decides is important to you, rather than just the time they were sent. This could seriously impact the success of tactics like live-blogging and Twitter chats, which generally depend on this chronological format Twitter has in place.
Buying directly from your feed
Most recently, Twitter announced it was testing a new feature that would allow you to make purchases directly from your Twitter feed.
A percentage of their U.S. user base will be able to tap a "buy" button under Tweets from select partners. Doing so will take them to a separate screen where they could check out size and product info, enter shipping and payment details and purchase the product mentioned in the Tweet.
"This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun," Twitter said in its blog post. "Users will get access to offers and merchandise they can't get anywhere else and can act on them right in the Twitter apps [...] Sellers will gain a new way to turn the direct relationship they build with their followers into sales."
What does this mean for your timeline? On its own, this shouldn't change too much about your feed. If you follow these partners you might see the buy button. You might also see it in Promoted Tweets which already get top billing in your feed.
That said, coupled with the other Twitter changes this could mean big changes in the future. Perhaps in a few months you'll see products people you follow have purchased appear in your feed. Maybe brands will be more attracted to the prospect of new kinds of access to Twitter's massive user base. We can only wait and see, but you can bet Twitter will be looking for ways to encourage brands to use the social network as a sales platform.