When Twitter started in 2006 things were simple, you followed people and what they said appeared in reverse chronological order on your timeline. In 2009 they added retweets, interrupting the flow somewhat, but maintaining the precedent that the most recent action appeared at the top of the list. In 2013 they started adding tweets from people you weren't following as part of a move towards the promotion of small amounts of sponsored content. In 2015 they introduced the "While you were away..." feature which showed the best of what you'd missed, not always from the people you were following. And this week, in a minor online revolution, they plan to introduce further algorithmic non-chronological posting into the timeline. Many people are very upset.
One of the joys of the current version of Twitter is being able to follow a personally-selected group of feeds in real time. If one of the people you follow tweets something [I'm having a cup of tea] [Oh damn, Thingy's died] [Goal!] you'll see it almost immediately, and meaningful chronological sequences appear. Indeed you can count on seeing it, a certainty which can be important if you're trying to maintain a conversation or follow an unfolding event. Imagine what a mess it would be if stories popped up in the wrong order, or if key messages failed to appear because Twitter chose to show you something else instead.
To clarify, major disruption will still be tweeted, but real-time updates about minor delays and less important issues will no longer appear. And this isn't because TfL can't provide the information, it's because they no longer think we'll all be able to see it.
Minor delays while we fix a signal systems failure in the Neasden area
6:56 AM - 10 Feb 2016
Route 184 is diverting via Church Hill, Brunswick Park Rd due to a broken down bus blocking Waterfall Rd, N14 (S/B)
5:41 PM - 11 Feb 2016
Canonbury station: No step free access to platform 4 while we fix faulty lifts.
9:20 AM - 11 Feb 2016
No cable car service due to high winds.
8:44 AM - 8 Feb 2016
Essentially TfL have raised the bar on the kind of information they intend to tweet. Major disruption, news and promotional messages will continue, and if you tweet a customer service request then feed managers will still try just as hard to send a personal reply back. But the less mundane stuff will vanish, which is bad news for anyone using Twitter to keep tabs on the current status of their favourite tube line or step-free access at their local station. Apps which rely on a real-time feed of information will also likely be broken as their bread and butter information dries up. Instead users will have to rely on the Status updates page of the TfL website, which isn't as customer friendly as TfL like to think it is, and hides away a lot of the information Twitter makes explicitly public.
Worst of all, this reduction of information appears to be entirely unnecessary. If you've read Twitter's latest blogpost, you'll know that they aren't intending to introduce a non-chronological timeline.
The tweak, if you opt in, piles a stack of top tweets and potentially promotional material at the top of your timeline. But underneath this are all the tweets you would have seen anyway in the order you would have seen them before. And at any time you can refresh to see all the latest tweets, in order, unencumbered by timey-wimey jiggery pokery. That's my understanding, at least, because Twitter haven't yet tried messing with my timeline. But I fully expect to be able to view all the tweets of everybody I follow in chronological order, not just because Twitter have said so, but because they've also confirmed I'll be able to turn the new feature off.
What I think has happened here is that TfL have jumped to conclusions and decided to kill off part of their information service as a result of a rather large assumption. Never mind that customers should still be able to see real-time updates in real time, just as before, TfL have decided to withdraw specific information to ensure it's no longer available. I'd suggest it'd be better to wait and see what happens before pulling the plug on something customers find genuinely useful. This is a backwards step, and a pointless one at that, on a medium that will continue to run backwards.
"We recently shared some thinking about how we provide the best service to our customers via Twitter (‘TfL Social Media – Adapting to Twitter’s Changes’). This has been taken as suggesting that we’re stepping back from providing the full range of information we currently provide our customers and that we object in some way to the changes being proposed to Twitter. That was not our intention, so we’ve taken down the post.
We’re not going to make any immediate changes to the current range of information we put out on Twitter, which means customers will continue to get everything they are used to receiving. We’re working with Twitter to ensure that we make best use of their platform and bring customers the messages they want to receive."