Twitter’s Confusing New, but Hopefully Now Abandoned, ‘Home/Latest’ Timeline

Twitter Support, four long days ago:

The Home and Latest timelines are now just a swipe away for everyone on iOS, and soon on Android and web.

Tap the ✨ icon to pin (or unpin) the Latest timeline to your Home tab for easy access.

When asked in a reply why it always reverts to “Home” when you relaunch the app, Twitter Support responded:

The Home timeline will be pinned first by default, but you can quickly access the Latest timeline by swiping left on Home.

We’ll share your feedback and request with the team.

Miguel de Icaza:

I would like to talk to the zookeeper that hired the baboon that designed this feature.

Fast forward to today, and here’s an update from Twitter Support:

We heard you –– some of you always want to see latest Tweets first. We’ve switched the timeline back and removed the tabbed experience for now while we explore other options.

I’d been playing around with this change on Twitter’s iPhone app all weekend, and I’m still confused. I think the way the new, now-abandoned (at least temporarily) timeline worked is as follows, but I’m not sure. “Home” is Twitter’s name for an algorithmically-generated timeline of “top tweets”. You get mostly tweets from popular accounts, including some, perhaps even many, that you don’t even follow, and the tweets appear in no discernible chronology. I see some tweets from minutes ago mixed in with tweets from almost 24 hours ago.

“Latest” is the timeline with tweets from accounts you follow, in chronological order. This is the feed that most long-time Twitter users think defines what Twitter is. (Both feeds get a slew of ads mixed in.)

The new feature defaulted to only showing you the “Home” timeline, but gave you an option to put a tab controller atop your feed with two options: “Home” and “Latest Tweets”. You could either tap or swipe to switch between them. But by default, the Home/Latest Tweets header wasn’t shown, and you only saw the algorithmic Home feed, with no indication that there was an option to switch. You had to go into the cryptically-iconned “✨” menu (the “sparkle menu”?), and tap “Pin your Latest timeline”, which was described thus: “The latest Tweets from people you follow will be one swipe away from Home.”

First, I had no idea what the hell the “✨” button did before this. I didn’t even know it was a button. What a bizarre icon for the options to control the essential nature of how you view Twitter. Not to be too cynical, but it feels like this icon choice was driven by a desire to hide this option while maintaining plausible deniability that the option had been hidden. “It’s not hidden or buried in settings — it’s right there in the sparkle!” The whole thing felt like using a Twitter app in a bad dream where you can’t figure out how anything works.

But the other thing is that by design, switching to “Latest Tweets” didn’t stick. The option to “pin” (another odd and confusing choice, that verb) “Latest Tweets” as a view you could swipe to stuck, but each time you opened Twitter, your main timeline defaulted to the algorithmic “Home” feed, and you needed to swipe to get to Latest Tweets. Many people check Twitter many times per day. It’s one swipe each time but that’s a lot of swipes in the aggregate, and the only reason it worked this way is that Twitter clearly wants to push people to the algorithmic feed to increase aggregate engagement. To hell with what users say they want to see.

The bottom line is that for most Twitter users — who use Twitter’s own app and who have no idea what’s in the sparkle menu — they no longer had a way to view the new tweets from the accounts they’ve chosen to follow. The default is to “unpin” the tweets you want to see. And even users who did know or learn about the “pin” setting inside the bananas sparkle menu got served the algorithmic “Home” feed each time they opened Twitter.1 How anyone at Twitter could not foresee that this would make people furious, I don’t know.

After years of complaints that Twitter had stagnated, feature-wise, they’re now adding new and interesting features on a regular basis. Whether this is related to Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO, I don’t know, but until this timeline change, I liked what I’ve been seeing from Twitter lately. I subscribe to Twitter Blue for $3/month and I really enjoy it — particularly the “Top Articles” feed, which shows the articles that were most shared over the last 24 hours by the people you follow. Not the top articles shared by people chosen by an algorithm — the top articles shared by people I chose to follow. It’s the main reason I check the official Twitter app regularly, and it’s a pretty decent replacement for Nuzzel, a dedicated app that Twitter acquired and shut down in May last year. They’ve also recently added a new “bookmarks” feature for tweets, which lets you collect tweets to refer back to later. You’ve always been able to use “likes/favorites” for this, but bookmarks allows you to save tweets without any of the social aspects inherent to “liking” something. Twitter bookmarks are (I believe) completely private. Great feature.

My last takeaway from Twitter’s four-day venture into pretending to be Facebook (and that anyone who uses Twitter wants them to be Facebook) is that I’m surprised how many people clearly have no idea that excellent third-party Twitter clients exist, and that they not only don’t show this algorithmic drivel, they can’t.2 They don’t show you all those ads either. You just pay a few bucks — the price of a beer or a sandwich — and apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific make Twitter what you want Twitter to be. They even have great native apps for Apple’s up-and-coming Mac platform.

  1. Twitter could change the ✨ icon to a 🍌 and it would make just as much, if not more, sense as the icon for that menu. ↩︎

  2. They also can’t show you good stuff, like the new Twitter Blue features, either, which is why I’ve been checking in with the first-party Twitter app lately. I use Tweetbot for Twitter, and for Twitter Blue features. ↩︎︎