The Rush to Relevance

Dan O’Neill 2014-09-05 2 min read

If you’re a long time user of twitter you’re used to how it works - you follow who you want and get the experience you want from it. With the news from a recent Gigaom article however, it looks like that might be changing.

Twitter seems to be suggesting that it’s going to move to a more Facebook style curated feed. And that is not really going down well with experienced twitter users. Twitter’s reasoning? Relevance. From the Wall Street Journal’s piece on the same news, Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer said:

Twitter’s timeline is organized in reverse chronological order… but this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user”

There’s that word. Relevant. Lots of people when they talk about the benefits of the internet talk about relevance. But every time I hear someone use that word I’m pretty sure what they’re actually talking about is relevance for advertisers. They want to be able to neatly divide up their user base into groups that they can sell to advertisers.

And while getting ads for things you might actually want might be of some benefit, it also has some unwanted side affects. For advertising purposes you’re being shown a curated feed from those you follow about apples, with ads for apples. But annoyingly you’ve lost that joy of discovery element that you get from the raw feed from those you follow.

And many twitter users seem to be upset for exactly that reason - the loss of raw feed. They’ve already built as much relevance as they want. So this rush to relevance that ad supported services and sites are favouring is solving a business problem, not a user problem. And I’m not sure if that’s ever led to a successful product.

That said, Twitter have slowly been adding features like threaded conversations, and they haven’t really messed it up yet. So maybe we need to let them try this. And if people don’t like it, they will just move to something else.