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Twitter Tested, And Scrapped, An Algorithm That Filled Timelines With Very Old Tweets

Hello? Yes. It's yesterday. I'm here in your Twitter Timeline.

Last updated on October 19, 2017, at 3:42 p.m. ET

Posted on October 18, 2017, at 3:23 p.m. ET

UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, Twitter product head Keith Coleman said the company will not roll out a version of its algorithm that highlights old tweets to its entire user base. And everyone, even those who were seeing them before, should stop seeing them.

@Kantrowitz Also, we are aware of duplicate Tweets in the timeline and are working on it!


Twitter is constantly testing and tweaking the algorithm that shows its users "the best tweets first" in their timelines. But within the past month or so, the algorithm has started filling some people's timelines with such old tweets they've started protesting loudly.

The complaints suggest that some of users' worst fears about the algorithmic timeline are coming true: Namely, that messing with Twitter's reverse chronological order would harm its live, vibrant feel.

Some Twitter users say they've spotted tweets in their timelines from as long as three days earlier:

Others have said it shows them the same tweets over and over:

Many more are reacting, uhh, calmly to what they're seeing:

As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is fond of saying, Twitter is all about a live experience, meaning it shows users what's happening in real-time.

The 🌍, live! #DescribeTwitterIn3Words

But filling timelines with such old tweets doesn't deliver on that promise. A tweet about a baseball game the day after it finished is the opposite of Dorsey's in-the-moment Twitter value proposition.

And sometimes, those day-old sports tweets can cause Twitter users to relive the horror of devastating losses, such as in the case of this Cleveland Indians fan:

Asked if the algorithm has been tweaked to show a higher ratio of old tweets, a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company had nothing new to share, "but we are always testing tweaks to make the timeline more relevant."

Twitter users can, of course, opt out of an algorithmically sorted timeline. But only 2% of Twitter users have toggled that option, according to the company's latest numbers. And one user who had opted-out reported seeing old tweets in her feed:

to sum up: twitter feeds are now no longer chronological regardless of your settings. mine goes 11 mins ago, 16 hou… https://t.co/9sxhxUc18Q

Introducing the algorithm has been good for Twitter. The company's user numbers have increased since the move, along with the amount of time people spend on the site. But there's no guarantee that if Twitter continues to ramp up the algorithm it will experience a proportional benefit. And judging from the feedback from those currently living with the version of the algorithm that surfaces old and repetitive tweets, the company may be finding the edge of its usefulness.

UPDATE

This story has been updated with a Twitter statement issued after its publication noting that the company will no longer show its users very old tweets.


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