After a year that saw the end of strictly 140-character tweets and the introduction of algorithmic timelines, Twitter users are likely to see even more changes to the service in the coming months. During Twitter's third-quarter earnings announcement on Thursday morning, company executives described how they intend to boost growth—both in ad revenue and in the number of active users—by continuing to improve the experience of using Twitter.
In 2017, artificial intelligence will play a larger role in shaping what users see and do on Twitter. "We’re focused on adding more machine learning to everything we do," CEO Jack Dorsey said during a call with investors. Here are six key areas to watch.
1. Smarter push notifications. Twitter said it is using artificial intelligence (aka machine learning) to make the notifications it sends more relevant to users. It is also working on notifications that include media, rather than just text. Finally, CFO Anthony Noto described how Twitter hopes to make following a notification less of a dead-end experience so that people "can actually explore more of Twitter." This could involve surfacing related content around a tweet that a user arrived at via notification.
2. Increasingly algorithmic timelines. Another area where Twitter is deploying machine learning is the timeline. Already, Twitter shows you tweets you may have missed since you last logged on. Expect these suggested tweets to become more tailored to your interests, and perhaps to see more suggested content throughout Twitter. From Twitter's shareholder letter:
In Q3, the enhanced timeline drove increases in retention for both monthly active and daily active usage, as well as increases in Tweet impressions and engagement (in the form of Tweets, Retweets, replies, likes and time spent on the platform). The timeline will continue to improve over time as our machine learning systems get better.
3. More live events. A recent Fast Company cover story described how Twitter is betting its future on live events like NFL games. During today's announcement, Noto emphasized how important live events are for getting people to use Twitter. When asked whether the U.S. presidential election had boosted activity on the platform, Noto said that while the presidential debates (which were live-streamed on Twitter) had prompted a surge in Twitter use during the events, the election had not increased usership overall.
"We did benefit meaningfully on the particular days that we had the live debates and integrated product of that curated timeline," Noto said. "[But] we really need to have a debate every day on Twitter for it to meaningfully improve our metrics on a quarterly basis. And that's where we're headed." (Emphasis added.)
4. Deeper conversations. A rather cryptic paragraph from Twitter's letter to shareholders suggests the company is working on features that will make tweeting feel less like shouting into the void and more like participating in a thoughtful conversation. How exactly Twitter will achieve this is unclear, but here's what they said about that goal:
[W]e will make Tweeting easier and more meaningful by providing more context and letting people not only broadcast to the world but also have deeper, open conversations about the topics they care about. Expect to see more experimentation in this area soon.
5. Better onboarding of new users. If Twitter is to stay relevant as a social media platform (and become profitable), it needs to get better at attracting and keeping new users. To that end, the company is changing the welcome process for new users. In the past, new Twitter users were shown suggested accounts to follow. In the future, new users will be asked about their interests and will receive recommendations for topics to follow. From the shareholder letter:
For people who are new to Twitter, we’re making onboarding more topic-based so they can quickly find the accounts that are Tweeting news and information they care about. Earlier in the year, we ran several experiments with a new topic-based onboarding experience. The final results showed new follows and mutual follows both increased 30%, along with an increase in time spent on Twitter as more people graduated into more active states.
6. New safety features. Twitter has long struggled with how to deal with the rampant abuse and harassment that takes place on its platform. While it has recently introduced better abuse reporting and a filter to hide trolls, it still has a long way to go. This morning, the company wrote that it plans to roll out more safety updates soon: "Next month, we will be sharing meaningful updates to our safety policy, our product, and enforcement strategy."