Friday, March 18, 2016

Twitter's New Anti-Timeline

Twitter's new, non-chronological timeline ranks tweets by their (algorithmically) perceived importance to your network.  As they say in their documentation,
"Tweets you are likely to care about most will show up first in your timeline. We choose them based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more."
There's a lot not to like with these changes, and, of course, the whole thing has more than just a whiff of desperation about it.  But my unease is more than just with the Facebook-ization of Twitter.  In subordinating chronology to 'importance' (however defined), Twitter undermines its temporality--and in doing so inhibits the ways we might manipulate that temporality as part of our practice of Twitter.

That is to say, if time is replaced by a proprietary algorithm, than chronology is no longer a significant dimension in our understanding of Twitter events, and the interesting (and rather quantum) perambulations of Twitter-time disappear into an abyssal, synchronic plane.  Temporally unfolding events (festivals, elections, disasters) collapse into a kind of reified blogspace defined by closeness and, perhaps, pushing Twitter towards a world of highly striated meaning where the accidental and the objet trouve on one's Twitter feed are subtended beneath a hierarchical ranking of people and things you already know and believe in.