Twitter Discover Highlights Pros and Cons of Personalization

Twitter is making some changes to the Discover tab. Essentially, Twitter is attempting to deliver more relevant, personalized content that incites users to interact and stay engaged on the service. Customizing content is a double-edged sword, though, that involves some degree of privacy infringement--or at least erosion--to achieve.

A post on the Twitter Engineering blog explains, “We’ve improved our personalization algorithms to incorporate several new signals including the accounts you follow and whom they follow. All of this social data is used to understand your interests and display stories that are relevant to you in real-time.”

Sounds like a good thing at face value. If you’re only following a handful of Twitter accounts it may not seem useful, but if you follow a couple hundred, or a few thousand Twitter accounts you understand how quickly the information flies by, and how difficult it is to keep on top of the rapidly flowing stream.

Twitter uses the trending topics to let you see the current hot topics across the Twitterverse. You can see what’s hot around the world, or narrow it down by country or region. The personalized Discover tab is more like a custom trending topics that shows you what’s hot among the Twitter accounts you actually follow and engage with—similar to the Timeline Topline service recently launched by PostPost.

When it comes to customizing or personalizing the content delivered to you, though, the word “algorithm” is sort of like a euphemism for “how we spy on you”. Or--to be more precise--the algorithm is the steps or processes used to customize the Web content based on the information that was gathered from monitoring your online activities and behaviors. Either way, it’s a little like spying.

Privacy is subjective, though, and for many the end is well worth the means. The net result of Twitter monitoring the tweets you follow and interact with is that Twitter is able to deliver content that is more relevant to you. It streamlines your online experience, and helps you find information you’re interested in more efficiently. That’s an acceptable trade-off.

In this case, it doesn’t really seem all that ominous. Twitter is a more public social network in the first place, so there isn’t any infringement of privacy involved in using the information being shared with the public to provide individuals with more relevant content.

The thing is, it’s up to you if you want to take part in this personalization or not. In the case of the Twitter Discover tab there is no opt-out that allows you to use Twitter without being monitored and having the personalized content filtered to you, but nobody is forcing you to use Twitter at all. If the monitoring necessary for Twitter to deliver custom content disturbs you or feels like an infringement on your privacy, you can choose not to use Twitter.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld. ]

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