How Twitter can avoid the Facebook trap

A modest proposal for the social media network with a clear case of Facebook envy: Don't be a jerk to users

Published September 5, 2014 2:51PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Dado Ruvic)
(Reuters/Dado Ruvic)

Hardcore Twitter users -- the ones who want their timelines presented in reverse chronological order without any filtering or tweaking -- erupted on Thursday at the news, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, that the micro-blogging service will almost certainly start rolling out a Facebook-style curated feed.

A curated feed, suggested CFO Anthony Notto, will provide more relevant tweets for the user. But many of us don't want Twitter's idea of relevance. We like the anarchy. We crave serendipity. We're especially interested in the way Twitter can surge during moments of breaking news -- for journalists, tapping into that hubbub is an important pipeline into what's going on, right now.

I wrote last week about how both Twitter and Facebook appear determined to be our new gatekeepers, but upon further reflection, it seems to me that there is an easy way for Twitter to defuse this controversy.

Twitter needs to make it clear that the curated feed will be merely an additional option. The reverse-chronological feed will remain intact. Most important, Twitter needs to assure its users that it won't play the same games as Facebook, which constantly disregards user preferences as to the desired default mode. I wouldn't mind Facebook's curated feed at all, if I wasn't constantly having to switch my setting back to "Most Recent" because Facebook always thinks it knows best what's right for me.

Twitter could even score a little P.R. coup, if the company explicitly promised users it would respect their preference wishes -- thus distinguishing it from Facebook. Go for it, Twitter -- the people will support you!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Curation Facebook Gatekeepers Newsfeed Social Media Timeline Twitter