The power of the timeline

I mentioned a few days back that I was noticing a load of junk on my timelines for Facebook and Instagram. This is because I'm not using them as often, due to my little Privacy Experiment.

One of the things that Facebook did, as it started to grow, back in 2006-2007 was, instead of displaying everyone's updates chronologically, it used an algorithm to pick out what it thought you were interested in and showed you that at the top of your feed. Instagram went through the same process, as did Twitter.

The reason is simple. As the services got bigger and bigger, there was more information to show. Displaying it chronologically meant you were likely to miss the things that mattered to you. Displaying it algorithmically meant that the important stuff floated to the top.

However, on Twitter, I don't use the offical Twitter app. I use an app called Tweetbot. The big advantage of Tweetbot is it displays everything chronologically. Often, when I open it, it shows hundreds of items, with a section saying "tap here to load missing tweets". And often I don't bother. Quite often I just scroll to the top and take a look at the newest stuff. Other times, I do scroll through the entire list, scanning the hundreds of items for anything that looks interesting.

And I think this makes a huge difference.

Because there's probably the same amount of junk on Twitter as there is on my Facebook or Instagram. I don't really know why, but I feel overwhelmed by the junk Facebook throws at me; I don't with the stuff that Tweetbot does. When I use the official Twitter app (which also uses an algorithm to choose what to show you), I once more feel overwhelmed.

Maybe it's because I know that deep-down, someone else is making the choice for me. With Tweetbot, it's just the passing of time.

Take action: I genuinely don't know what to say here. Tweetbot is rumoured to be about to die (Twitter are changing their terms of service). If that happens, I think I won't bother with Twitter again. I guess, the action to take away is "if it makes you uncomfortable, stop doing it"

Rahoul Baruah

Rahoul Baruah

Rubyist since 1.8.6. Freelancer since 2007, dedicated to building incredible, low-cost, bespoke software for tiny businesses. Also CTO at Collabor8Online.
Leeds, England