SAN FRANCISCO—Twitter is tweaking the way that tweets appear in its users’ timelines in its latest attempt to broaden the appeal of its messaging service.
The change announced Wednesday moves Twitter closer to a formula that Facebook uses to determine the order of posts appearing in its users’ news feeds.
It’s a risky move for Twitter because it threatens to infuriate many of its 320 million users who like things the way they are. But the company can’t afford to stand pat with its user growth slowing dramatically and its stock price plummeting by more than 50 percent since co-founder Jack Dorsey returned as CEO last summer.
Investors initially applauded Twitter for shaking things up: Its stock gained 58 cents, or 4 percent, to close at $14.98. But it then shed 13 cents in extended trading after the company released a fourth-quarter report that showed its service didn’t add any users during the final three months of last year.
Like Facebook, Twitter is shifting to a sorting system that relies on algorithms to track which tweets seem to matter most to individual users. Based on that analysis, Twitter will begin featuring tweets that it believes will be most likely to capture a user’s interest at the top of the timeline.
That is a departure from the traditional presentation of Twitter’s timeline, which has always shown tweets in reverse chronological order so the most recent messages appear at the top of a user’s feed. The real-time feed will now appear below the tweets picked out by Twitter.
Users initially will have the option to turn on the algorithmic system by going into their settings and choosing “Show me the best Tweets first.” That choice began to slowly roll out to Twitter accounts Wednesday.
Twitter plans to automatically convert users’ timelines to the new system, allowing them to turn it off if they want. The revised presentation is a spin-off of a feature called “while you were away” that Twitter introduced about a year ago.
“We think this is a great way to get even more out of Twitter,” Mike Jahr, senior engineering manager for the company, wrote in a blog post.
Although Twitter has built one of the Internet’s best-known communication networks, it has been struggling to attract new users and those who have signed up haven’t stuck around for long because they found it too difficult to find content they like.
During the first nine months of 2015, for instance, Twitter added 28 million users while Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing service owned by Facebook Inc., picked up more than 100 million users. Instagram now has more than 400 million users, making it larger than Twitter even though it is four years younger.
Dorsey, who helped start Twitter Inc. nearly 10 years ago, is hoping the revised presentation of tweets will prove more engaging to newcomers without alienating the messaging service’s most loyal users. He already had to quell an uprising last weekend after news of revised timeline leaked out and triggered an avalanche of posts with the tag “RIPTwitter.”
By making Twitter easier and more engaging to use, Dorsey is also hoping the company can sell more advertising so it can begin to make money for the first time in its history.