Elon Musk has declared he wants to transform Twitter into an all-inclusive app that people can use for payments, news and food orders.
“Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” Mr. Musk posted in October, weeks before completing a $44 billion acquisition of the social network. He later said Twitter could be like WeChat, the popular Chinese app that combines social media, instant messaging and payment services.
But nearly six months after Mr. Musk took over Twitter, his ambitions for the platform have remained mostly that — ambitions.
Although the billionaire has made dozens of tweaks to Twitter, they have largely been cosmetic. His changes have mostly affected the platform’s appearance, said Jane Manchun Wong, an independent software engineer who studies social apps. Those updates include adding more symbols and metrics displayed with tweets, but Twitter’s main elements — making it a place to quickly share news and discuss live events — haven’t altered.
Still, users’ experiences are changing. That’s because the kinds of tweets that they see are being affected by Mr. Musk’s behind-the-scenes adjustments. He has tinkered with the algorithm that decides which posts are most visible, thrown out content moderation rules
The upshot is a Twitter that looks similar to the way it always has, but that is clunkier and less predictable in what tweets are surfaced and seen, users said. In some cases, that has caused confusion. Even Twitter’s employees have expressed frustration.
Last month, Andrea Conway, a designer at Twitter, posted about the design changes, saying: “We know you hate it. We hate it too. We’re working on making it suck less.” The modifications, she added, could eventually make Twitter “completely unusable.”
Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter
Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
So what looks different on Twitter now, and what are the changes underlying the tweaks?
The most notable difference is Twitter’s newsfeed, the stream of posts that people see when they open the app. Newsfeeds previously appeared as a single flow of posts, displaying tweets from only the accounts that a user followed.
Mr. Musk has cleaved the newsfeed into two. Now when users open Twitter’s app, they see an algorithmically curated “For You” feed, which mimics a popular feature on TikTok, and a “Following” tab.
The “For You” newsfeed incorporates changes that Mr. Musk has made to Twitter’s recommendation algorithm, pulling in more tweets from people a user doesn’t follow and suggesting new topics and interests. That also means users might see posts from all sorts of content creators whom they might not be interested in. At one point in February, the algorithm flooded users’ feeds with tweets from Mr. Musk.
Here’s how a user’s “For You” newsfeed might look, with an example of a tweet from an account that the user doesn’t follow and that the algorithm suggests. For users to see posts only from people they follow, they would have to switch to the “Following” tab.
Mr. Musk has also modified Twitter by adding a flood of color-coded check marks, which belie a deeper change to how the platform confirms the identities of organizations, governments, notable individuals and other official accounts.
Twitter previously offered white-and-blue check marks for users who were “verified,” a kind of badge for those who had substantiated their identities and who were typically public figures, such as politicians and celebrities. The check marks were free.
Mr. Musk has begun charging users an $8 monthly fee in exchange for a check mark, with the free check marks starting to disappear this month. He is essentially favoring payments from subscribers, departing from the idea that a check mark meant an account was notable.
Now yellow check marks indicate corporate accounts, while gray check marks denote the accounts of government officials. Companies can also add their logo to employees’ accounts, verifying their employment. Individuals who pay get the blue-and-white check mark.
Those who paid for check marks would be boosted by Twitter’s recommendation algorithm and be eligible to appear in people’s “For You” newsfeeds, Mr. Musk said last month. That would prevent spam accounts from gaming the algorithm and rising to the top of the “For You” newsfeeds, he added.
Metrics, Metrics, Metrics
For most of Twitter’s history, users could only like, retweet or reply to a post. The numbers of replies, likes and retweets then showed up at the end of a tweet.
Under Mr. Musk, every tweet now has more metrics attached. He has added a tally showing how many times a post has been viewed, saying the total number of views can demonstrate a message’s popularity better than its total likes or retweets. Twitter has also added a tally for the number of times a tweet is bookmarked and saved.
That means every tweet now has the number of replies, likes, retweets, bookmarks and views appended to it. Here’s an example of how tweets looked before, when there were fewer numbers, and after, with more metrics shown.
What do all of these moves add up to? Not necessarily the smoothest experience, some Twitter users and employees said.
“Twitter has leaned in to the ‘crazy uncle’ contingent,” said Chris Messina, who is known as the inventor of the hashtag, adding that he now sees recommended tweets that don’t align with his interests. “In terms of the product, overall I think the quality has really regressed.”
Additional production by Jeanne Noonan DelMundo.