Why You May Start Seeing Tweets From People You Don’t Follow

Twitter appears to be tinkering with one of its most valuable features—the follow system—just as CEO Dick Costolo said it might

If the social network’s recent experiments bear fruit, your Twitter feed might soon start displaying tweets from people you don’t follow, just because other people you follow do follow them. (For the sake of simplicity, let’s call these “friend-followed” accounts.)

One Twitter user pointed out this new feature on Monday. He saw a tweet from the viral news site BuzzFeed appear in his timeline on mobile, along with a “follow” icon embedded in the tweet. It wasn’t an ad, as there was no “promoted” tagline—instead, above the tweet was a notification that a friend follows BuzzFeed, implying that he should do likewise.

Twitter is regularly testing different features, so it’s unclear whether it will roll out this new feature to all users. But many of Twitter’s experiments do eventually make their way to the service at large.

A Helping Hand For Newbies; A Plague To Pros

Displaying tweets from friend-followed accounts could be helpful to new users, many of whom find the service bewildering on a number of fronts—the “who to follow” question perhaps chief among them. Twitter has recently emphasized simplification of its service for newbies, such as by revamping profiles and encouraging passive participation in place of its older, everyone-talks notion of Twitter as “town square.”

For Twitter pros though, mucking with the timeline could prove hugely annoying. We already see multiple ads in our timelines from accounts we don’t follow—earlier today I scrolled through my timeline on Twitter’s iOS app for three minutes and saw three different advertisements. Many Twitter users won’t want to add to the noise level with even more tweets from friend-followed accounts.

The biggest problem with blasting out friend-followed tweets is that many people simply aren’t that interested in who the people they follow follow. (Note: Not a typo.)

For instance, many people follow me for tweets about technology or social justice, but many of the accounts I follow happen to be about food, science or traveling. It’s not hard to imagine how annoyed people might get if subjects they don’t care about start popping up in their timelines.

Twitter’s Delicate Balance

Twitter’s efforts to get more new users on the service are obviously paying off. The company experienced high growth in the second quarter this year, thanks in part to the way it highlighted World Cup coverage. Twitter also made it easier to create new accounts.

But Twitter has a delicate balance to uphold. It clearly wants to keep growing, and so has to cater to new users who sign up for a Twitter account but don’t get what to do with it. But it also needs to keep from alienating users who understand how Twitter works, find it valuable as is and don’t want anyone mucking it up.

 In the meantime, power users might start to see tweets from accounts they have no interest in, much to their chagrin.

Twitter declined to comment, although it once again pointed me to its 2013 blog post on its experiments.

Lead image courtesy of Maryland Gov Pics on Flickr

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