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Improving ‘In Case You Missed It’

Posted 18th March 2017

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Despite howls of protest – at least among the hardcore users – Twitter is obsessed with trying to give us non-chronological timelines. And not just with its show “best” tweets first feature – at least that can be turned off. No, we’re talking about the dreaded ‘In Case You Missed It’, cluttering up our timelines something rotten. Which you can helpfully request to be shown less often… but can’t switch off entirely.

Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if those tweets you missed were actually worth catching. But in my experience, they so rarely are. Still, as an extremely unscientific test, I asked people to send me examples of my own tweets which Twitter somehow thought they needed to see again. With thanks to Mike Scott, Paul Buckle, Richard Goodwin, and David Swallow, here’s what delights from my feed Twitter thought needed a second chance.

ST:DS9, 'Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places': as funny as I remembered... but far more uncomfortable than I remembered too.

I love that with Frasier you never quite know what kind of comedy you're going to get with a given episode. / Just watched the Frasier ep 'The 1000th Show'. Beautiful location shooting in Seattle. Feels like a whole different show.

Considering that 'London Bridge' article thinks BBC One would drag out the Exercise ident for an obit, I would pay it no further heed. / Just watched the Frasier ep 'The 1000th Show'. Beautiful location shooting in Seattle. Feels like a whole different show.

argh finally upgraded from mavericks to sierra everything looks odd

I mean, let’s take a good look at those. Me rambling about Star Trek early in the morning isn’t worth highlighting to anybody. Neither are my two tweets about Frasier. The “London Bridge” one might just be worth it if you squint. But worst of the lot is me whinging about an OS upgrade: a silly tweet made in a particular moment, which is of absolutely no use dragging out again for people. Sure, this is a ridiculously small sample, but anecdotally it’s about the hit rate I get from other people. Far too often, it’s an entire waste of time.

Ideally, perhaps Twitter would just drop In Case You Missed It entirely; the output simply isn’t good enough to be worth it. I very much suspect they have zero interest in doing that, however – it doesn’t fit in with their goal of helping more people find useful tweets, however badly that goal is implemented. So the question becomes: how can Twitter make the output of In Case You Missed It better?

I have a suggestion. The addition of one little icon when composing a tweet could at least go some way towards solving this problem. Here is my (fairly terrible) mock-up:

Twitter mock adding 'important' icon

When composing a tweet, simply select the icon ‘Important’ if it’s something you think is worth giving people a second chance to see it. This would then guide Twitter’s algorithm to put these far more useful tweets in the In Case You Missed It feature. It might even become – shock! – actually useful.

I can already hear QUESTIONS.

What happens if some fucking oaf decides every tweet they make is “important”?
Simple: if somebody selects more than a certain percentage of their tweets as important, Twitter’s algorithm ignores their suggestions entirely.

Couldn’t this just be used for spam messages, or just really annoying ones?
It could. On the other hand, these are tweets from someone you’ve chosen to follow, so hopefully you haven’t chosen to follow someone who is a bellend.

Couldn’t you just ‘Like’ your own tweet, rather than having this as a separate feature?
You could, but I think there are two problems with this. Firstly, it would make this a hidden feature – there would be nothing in the UI telling you that liking your own tweet has this particular effect. Secondly, liking your own tweets currently makes you look like a cock, and I don’t think people would be able to get past that.

This is adding too much UI cruft to make the solution worth it.
Yeah, you’re probably right on that one.

Except… let’s go right back to the start of this article. Remember that ‘Show Best Tweets First’ timeline which anybody sensible has turned off? Wouldn’t this feature also help that algorithm actually do something more useful than it currently does? And isn’t this something that Twitter really seems to want to improve? They’re obsessed with helping discoverability for new users. This plays right into making that better.

Of course, this is a cheap, hack, first-draft idea, and I am categorically not a UI designer. I’m certainly not convinced about the details of the implementation here. But I can’t help but feel there’s an idea here which could be developed into something useful. Not only could it help new users find tweets they’re interested in, but it might even be something Twitter users of old might find helpful.

A win for all users of the service. Which would be a rare thing for Twitter these days.

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Andrew Bowden on 18 March 2017 @ 11pm

Too easy, too sensible. They’ll never do it because it ain’t going to improve whatever crap metric Twitter is judging itself on these days.

Martin Clayton on 20 March 2017 @ 4pm

I’m more inclined to look at it from the readers’ point of view — one author’s junk is another man’s treasure. In theory, twitter is best placed to predict individual reaction – and a Tweeter-Importance flag would be more fuel for the big-data mix. Having said that, I almost always opt for non-relevant ads/content when given the choice. :)