The hidden power of Twitter Custom Timelines

What if the new Twitter Custom Timelines could open a new way to follow your interests on Twitter with more signal and less noise?

Twitter announced recently a new feature to create custom timelines. This feature allows you to create custom collections of tweets. Those collections appear on your profile (only in Tweetdeck for now) and have a unique public URL that you can share. You can also embed them on any site.

Twitter Customer Timelines meet hashtags

What if every time you used a hashtag, it would automatically add your tweet to a collection with the name of the hashtag? (If it's the first time that you use that hashtag, it will first create a new custom timeline for you.)

This has two direct benefits: - You can easily look back to all your tweets about a given conference or on a given topic (e.g. all my tweets with #sxsw or with #startup) - Other users can quickly see on your profile what you are mostly tweeting about recently

But most importantly, it opens the door to allow other users to only follow a subset of your tweets. E.g. you could follow only my tweets about startup (@xdamman#startup) or only my tweets in French (@xdamman#fr). Conversely, you could follow all my tweets but unfollow my tweets about #sxsw.

Modified Tweetdeck screenshot: Follow a custom feed

Perfect for alerts, promotions, ...

Twitter already offers an alert mechanism, but it's only available for a limited number of accounts. With this new follow paradigm, Twitter could scale that feature to everyone. Anyone should be able to send an #alert and it should be up to your followers to follow or unfollow them. E.g. I don't want to follow all the tweets from @nytimes but I'd be happy to follow @nytimes#alerts. I should also be able to configure it in such a way that those alerts get pushed to me.

Promotions is another great use case for this. I don't want to follow @amazon but I wouldn't mind following @amazon#blackfriday.

A better interest graph

By allowing to follow a subset of someone's tweets, you effectively reduce the cost of following. As a result, I would expect people to follow more feeds and therefore build a deeper interest graph (which is good to improve ad targeting.)

Conclusion

Despite the current limitations, the new Twitter Custom Timelines have the potential to change the way we use Twitter. Custom Timelines could be the foundation for a new follow mechanism on Twitter that I believe would greatly improve the signal to noise ratio. Something that many Twitter users have been craving for a long time. Time will tell but I can't wait to see what Twitter will do with this.

Xavier Damman

About the author

I'm Xavier Damman. I'm an engineer in computer science and an entrepreneur. I'm passionate about the digital renaissance. I like to think about the future of media (I cofounded Storify), organizations and democracy (I'm now working on Open Collective). In my spare time, I like to hack and talk. You can follow me on Twitter @xdamman.