Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that is downright blasphemous to experienced users. Some users are seeing a few tweets in their timelines that have merely been favorited by accounts they follow. Other tweets are showing from accounts that your friends follow. That's a massive change: Twitter has fundamentally only shown tweets and retweets posted by accounts you personally follow (as well as advertisements) in timelines to date.
The experiment is particularly concerning for some because the favorite has always been rather mysterious. Despite its name, many do not use the favorite in the same way as a Facebook "Like." Some use it as a simple acknowledgment of receiving a tweet or as a way of saying "thanks." It can also be a simple way of saying that you found something funny. Others use it as a type of bookmarking system.
Don't you dare mess with my timeline
Favorites have also been pseudo-private; while you can view a list of favorited tweets from an account's profile page or on a tweet's detail page, typically only the "favoriter" and the "favoritee" ever know about it. If Twitter starts surfacing favorited tweets in timelines, they've suddenly become far more public. The change — and the backlash — is somewhat similar to Facebook's attempts to share just about everything "friends" did with Open Graph. The company has largely given up on those efforts.
Twitter filling my feed with stuff I didn't ask for - stuff other people follow and fav. pic.twitter.com/IVOViGF1QW— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) August 17, 2014
For those who have used Twitter for years, the change is so shocking it can seem like the company is completely ignorant to how its customers use the service. But even seasoned Twitter veterans should admit that the service's core functionality is fairly arcane — it's far from accessible to new users, and that's a problem for Twitter.
It's not impossible to see how this experiment could be beneficial for those who haven't carefully curated a list of accounts to follow. Seeing what other people favorite could help new users see how people use the service. It could also reveal some of the excellent back-and-forth conversations that are easily missed unless you follow many accounts that interact with each other often.
Let's face it: favs are pretty arcane
Even if you are up in arms about the experiment, it seems unlikely that the feature will see a wide rollout in its current form. It's currently unclear how many users are seeing the experiment in their timelines right now. I noticed the feature late last month in my own account, and a quick search of Twitter shows some others have as well. The experiment gained attention earlier today when The Next Web published a story on it.
Twitter has not yet responded to requests for comment, but in a generic blog post on its site about such tests, the company notes that it "experiment[s] with features that may never be released to everyone who uses Twitter." The company adds that the "they help us decide what not to do –– which is important as we work to keep Twitter simple while improving the user experience."