Why I value randomness over relevance on Twitter

Twitter went into meltdown recently over rumours it is looking to replace the current chronological timeline with an algorithmically driven content feed.

(If you didn’t see this news, you obviously weren’t logging into your Twitter account at the right time…)

These rumours were driven by Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto stating publicly that the current method of organising the newsfeed “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user”.

I worry that Mr Noto understands the technology, but doesn’t understand his users.

I love Twitter precisely because it doesn’t give me ‘the most relevant experience’.  I love the random waterfall of tweets tumbling through my timeline in completely unstructured fashion; the juxtaposition of serious political arguments with silly jokes, news with opinion.

I make a point of following people I don’t necessarily agree with, just to get an alternative perspective on things (much like a fiercely liberal ex-colleague who would religiously read the Daily Mail every day, because it’s important to “know your enemy”).

I would hate to lose that.

This article in Medium does a great job of articulating the concerns of Twitter users.

For me the key element is this:

“An algorithm can perhaps surface guaranteed content, but it cannot surface unexpected, diverse and sometimes weird content exactly because of how algorithms work: they know what they already know.”

Algorithms already have enormous influence on all aspects of our lives.

If you’re in any doubt as to the importance of ‘big data’ in monitoring and predicting human behaviour, take a few minutes to watch this fascinating Ted talk by Christopher Steiner, author of Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World:

Never mind that the bots control the financial markets and know more about our personalities than we do though, they already control the Top 40 goddamit!

In 2011 scientists (I would call them boffins if I worked for one of the red-tops) claim to have found the ‘Hit Potential Equation’ that can determine if a song will reach the top of the charts.

And it was an algorithm that identified the hit making potential of Maroon 5 and Norah Jones, by analysing the musical structure and patterns of their albums.

But as Christopher Steiner puts it in his Ted talk, “would the algorithms find Nirvana?  Would they find the Beatles?”

Please Twitter, let me control my own feed.

I’ll happily wade through the crap in the hope of unearthing the next Nirvana or Beatles.

I’ve already got Facebook if I want a sea of mediocrity soundtracked by Maroon 5 and Norah Jones.