What to Like About Twitter’s New Real-Time Activity Stream

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In a blog post late Wednesday, Twitter announced that they were slowly rolling out two new features in hopes of better illustrating users’ social activity. The first is a reinvigorated @USERNAME tab, where users will now be able to see which of their tweets were favorited, which ones were retweeted, tweets mentioning the user, and new followers they’ve accumulated on their journey toward 140-character domination.

The second new feature being implemented is a brand new Activity tab, which will take the spot of the current retweet option. There, users will find a collection of retweets, favorites, and followers of the accounts they too follow. Its intention, supposedly, is to help promote interactivity through discovery.

(MORE: NYPD to Scour Facebook and Twitter for Evidence of Crimes)

As it always is when something changes on the internet, there’s a healthy amount of backlash, butperhaps a bit unexpectedlyalso a fair amount of praise. Colleen Taylor of GigaOM thinks that this new activity tab will help Twitter with its natural stickiness problem by keeping people on the site, clicking around on what captures their interests. It’s a philosophy the social network began implementing when they unveiled their new homepage a few months back, and one echoed by MG Siegler of TechCrunch:

“That’s the key to this change: this is yet another move by Twitter to bulk up their social graph. And it’s a smart one because it will make Twitter feel more alive. At the same time, they’re keeping the main stream intact as the simple, standard reverse chronological stream. The mixing of @replies with other activity will probably piss some users off — most people hate change, after all — but overall it’s a smart move.”

The cross section presented by the dual streams, in theory, will allow users to more easily chart their “progress” in the social network, making the whole Twitter experience more visual and interactive. Some feel, however, that the interjection of images (such as user avatars) into the stream will cause eyes to lose their momentum; after all, Twitter’s less-is-more economy was predicated on scanning text quickly. And as Facebook has evidenced, people don’t typically like having to relearn behaviors.

But somehow I don’t think it’ll be all that distracting. It’s no secret that several eye tracking studies demonstrated that users on the web read in an F-shaped, cross stream-ish pattern; this unconfirmed video visualizing where eyes go on Twitter seems to indicate the same thing (albeit the older single-column version, which utilizes the same reverse chronological order).

Twitter users are already used to scanning their timelines for interesting bits, and it seems counter-intuitive that anyone would take the time to read their tweets line by line. They’re drawn to what sticks out.

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