The main criticism in The Atlantic’s “A Eulogy For Twitter,” which tore through media circles and left no tweet pundit behind, was that something’s changed among the network’s hyper-obsessive users. It’s quieter now. The good conversations are fewer. The feeling — and reasonable one at that — is that people have left. Power tweeters have moved on.
But thanks to a lovely/fascinating/terrifying little Tweetdeck feature called the “Activity Feed,” we can see that this feeling is only partly true. Your Twitter feed isn’t dead. It’s lurking.
In essence, Activity Feed (which has been around since 2012 but feels especially relevant lately) is a Tweetdeck tab that allows you to view your network exclusively through the interactions of the accounts you follow. It tracks favorites, follows, and retweets of every account you subscribe to and feeds them to you in real time. If you’re following more than a couple hundred active accounts, the notifications cascade downward at breakneck speed. More often than not, it’s a little dizzying. If my feed — as well as the feeds of many of my colleagues — is any indication, nobody’s gone anywhere.
Activity Feed is also one of the most interesting ways to navigate Twitter. All the engagements that the feed broadcasts are technically public, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling voyeuristic. Only a niche group of active Twitter users use Tweetdeck, and many people, it seems, favorite and follow on Twitter in, what they believe to be, private. And wild things have happened. Since making Activity Feed my primary column in Tweetdeck, I’ve seen people obsessively trade favorites back and forth only to find out later that they’d started dating. Flirt favs! Twitter courtship! Weird! I’ve watched well placed hate-favs roll past, causing me to nod in solidarity. I’ve also seen a few new media hires get scooped as a result of some premature follows.
More than pseudo-creepy voyeurism, it’s also the most effective Twitter recommendation engine around. Rather than relying on Twitter’s recommendations or the lists of others, Activity Feed essentially serves up interesting tweets and accounts from a trusted source: the people I’ve already chosen to follow.
The nature of Activity Feed disguises these “recommendations” and adds a weird layer of discovery that makes me much more likely to follow an account. The Discover tab is similar, but not nearly as active or interesting. And while the Activity Feed is probably too much for most casual users, it offers a new and fascinating perspective on your feed.
In The Atlantic’s eulogy, the root of the problem seems to stem from Twitter coming into its own as a business. Post-IPO Twitter has been colonized. There’s nothing left to break; no more surprises. This is probably why living in your Activity Feed is so refreshing. It feels new and different and just a little wrong. But more than anything else, it’s a reminder that everyone’s basically still out there.
Correction: An earlier version of this post mentioned that the Activity Feed wasn’t part of Twitter’s mobile app. New versions of the app now include the Feed.