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Twitter Users Blast Reported Plan To Change Display Of Tweets


It's something that happens every day. Things blow up on Twitter. Trends happen. Hashtags are created. Happy, angry tweets start flying. And over the weekend, Twitter itself became a trending topic. It happened after a report came out that the company would change the way tweets are displayed, that they would show up on your timeline differently. NPR's Laura Sydell is here to talk more about this. And Laura, one of the hashtags around this has been Twitter RIP, as in Twitter, rest in peace. Why are people so upset?

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Well, what happened is Buzzfeed reported that an unnamed source claimed that Twitter was going to start functioning more like Facebook...


SYDELL: ...And use algorithms that will curate your news feed on Twitter. And this upset people because you follow people, and in real-time, they tweet something, and that's what pops up at the top of your feed.

MCEVERS: It's chronological.

SYDELL: It's chronological, and people have really liked that because it allows a lot of things to bubble up. You don't have to be famous to get to the top. If a tweet is good, it makes its way to the top. So, you know, something like Black Lives Matter started at the grassroots, bubbled up, and that's why people really like the way it is. So the rest in peace was the fear that they were going to change the algorithm.

MCEVERS: Are they going to change the algorithm?

SYDELL: Hard to say. I think, you know - Jack Dorsey, who is the CEO of Twitter, on Saturday, responded with a tweet that said, I want you all to know we're always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week. Now, mind you, he said next week, so does that mean they're thinking about it in the distant future or in the near future, just not next week? He also said, I love real time. We love live stream. It's us, and we're going to continue to refine it to make Twitter feel more, not less, live. Again, he didn't say explicitly, we're not going to change and put in an algorithm.

MCEVERS: I mean, there are a lot of Twitter users who are very engaged with this site. I mean, some might even say obsessed. But at the same time, Twitter is having trouble building up its user base. I mean, would a new algorithm like this help?

SYDELL: So Twitter has a little over 300 million users who use it on a monthly basis. And it really hasn't been able to make a consistent profit off that. Plus, growth has slowed. Take Facebook. Facebook has, you know, over 1.5 billion users, still growing. So investors are saying, hey, come on, you know, Twitter; what's going on here?


SYDELL: So I think that they've got to do something to make it easier to use. I think people feel that Facebook - it's actually fairly - you get on there, and you can see how to use it. Twitter takes some work. So there's a lot of pressure, and that, I think, is what this is all about - to make Twitter easier for the average person to understand.

MCEVERS: And I kind of have to ask. I mean, would we be having this conversation if this was some other company, not Twitter?

SYDELL: I have to admit - and, Kelly, I suspect you would agree - journalists really do like Twitter a lot, and we tend to follow it. And partially, that is because we use it. It is a great source for breaking news. I've used it myself. I mean, there have been moments when, you know, horrible stories - the bombing in Boston or whatever - the first of time I saw it was on Twitter because people were there on the ground, and they were tweeting it out.

And so I think that's one of the reasons we journalists are always following Twitter and excited about it. Plus, it's kind of an interesting company. The current CEO, Jack Dorsey, came back - he's a cofounder. He came back, and he's running two companies at once. His other company is Square. So he's a double CEO right now. And I think that also makes for a good story that we journalists enjoy.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Laura Sydell. Thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.