The last thing I expected to discuss with my hairdresser last week was "Small Wonder," a 1980's television series about a family and its robot daughter. While the hairdresser cut my hair, she seemed determined to keep a conversation going. Questions about current TV shows fell flat since we didn't watch any of the same shows. It wasn't until she reminisced about the TV shows she had watched as a kid that we found a connection. Unsurprisingly, we had watched nearly all the same sitcoms between 1985 and the late 90's. Having a similar conversation about recent movies, TV shows, and news articles has become difficult as we consume content in increasingly personalized ways.
There was a digital outcry earlier this month when Twitter revealed plans to transform its timeline into an algorithm-driven content feed in 2015. Right now tweets from accounts that users are following appear on the company's timeline in reverse chronological order.
While users tend to get upset when a company says it will change a platform they are accustomed to, there are also concerns that a curated Twitter content feed will lost its value as a (nearly) free-flowing communications platform.
"Curation is Twitter becoming Not Twitter," writes political strategist Patrick Ruffini in a blog post, "Rage against the Algorithm." Ruffini continues: "This is a basic violation of Twitter's promise to its users: unfettered real-time communication. A tweet of mine may interest no one, but at least it gets a fair shot by getting shown to everyone who is on at the time."
Twitter Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto positioned an algorithm-driven news feed as a way to improve the relevancy of the tweets that appear on a user's timeline. With more than 500 million tweets popping up on the service each day, this could be a way to separate the noise from content a user is actually interested in.
Notably, Twitter is also under pressure to boost its revenue as a public company. Twitter has already dabbled with tweets from accounts users aren't following, such as through Promoted Tweets, and an algorithm could be another way for the service to drive revenue from advertisers.
If companies want their tweets to appear in front of more users, for example, it is likely they will have to pay for that exposure. This could be bad news for users that depend on their organic reach. Brands that had spent years accumulating likes and followers on Facebook already experienced this frustration when the company reduced its organic reach in favor of a pay-to-play model.
As more companies offer hyper-personalized content, it could also have a deleterious effect on the user experience, notes Tyler Douglas, chief marketing officer at Vision Critical, a cloud-based customer intelligence company. "It's scary that we could end up creating a filtered view of the world and you're no longer opening the same newspaper," Douglas notes. "Filters can have an effect on how people view the world, which we should be cautious about."