Twitter’s ‘While You Were Away’ Recap Feature Is Rolling Out To Many Users

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Back in November, Twitter announced plans to implement a number of new initiatives to boost user engagement, and one of those features — a ‘While you were away’ recap of tweets you may have missed — appears to be rolling out to significant numbers of users.

It is not live for all at this point, but the fact that it is rolling out to large numbers of Twitter’s userbase suggests that a full rollout is coming soon. We contacted Twitter for comment but — unsurprisingly, given that it is New Year’s Eve — did not receive a response at the time of writing. [Update: Twitter declined to comment.]

‘While you were away’ works much like Facebook’s Timeline and is the first major non-chronological feature to hit Twitter. Back in November, the company said it would look at the ‘best’ tweets from your network since you last opened Twitter, and put them at the top of your timeline so you don’t miss them.

“Every time you open the Twitter app, you’ll see something great,” it said of the new feature, which was announced at the same time as ‘instant timeline’, which is expected to arrive on the service in early 2015.

CNBC’s Eli Langer noticed ‘While you were away’ appear in his version of Twitter’s mobile app on New Year’s Eve, and a search indicates that it rolled out to a significant number of others over the past few days. Some guinea pigs actually got the feature as early as the first week of December.

As for the reaction, it’s a mixed bag. Some users don’t like it or find it confusing:

While others are impressed:

The algorithm that Twitter uses to source your ‘best’ tweets from your friends is crucial to its success. As someone who doesn’t use Twitter every minute of every day, I’d appreciate a recap but only if it is able to surface content that is relevant and interesting to me.

There are already some services that exist solely to do that, while Twitter has email alerts for the purpose too.

Nuzzel, for example, taps into your Facebook and Twitter network to surface news stories and other items that are popular with people you know. I’m skeptical that Twitter’s feature can be as effective, particularly since it only serves up a single tweet and that takes up precious real-estate at the top of your feed.

Nonetheless, the addition looks like it will be more useful for users than many of Twitter’s recent features — which include sponsored accounts appearing in following lists, tweets from people you don’t follow in your timeline, and a test that meddled with the retweet button.

Twitter changed its Head Of Product in October, so we shall see whether that personnel shift means less tinkering and more useful features for users in 2015.