Mar 13 2009

The Problem with Twitter Suggesting Users

There has been a lot of discussion around the blogosphere the past few days about Twitter’s Suggested Users feature and whether or not it’s fair, valuable, and so on. Jason Calacanis offered up $250,000 to be near the top of the list for two years, and stated he thought that price was a bargain. (Jason has also been pushing the value of Twitter followers for a long time now, but that’s a whole other story. For this, let’s assume there is some value to the number of followers you have.)

I gotta admit – I agree with folks on this – there is a problem here.

Twitter is like any other social network – it’s no fun unless you have friends to follow. It does make sense to create a list of people for new users to add and it avoids having to create a “Tom” (MySpace) type person who will give you something to do when you first join.

My problem is around the way the list has been implemented. I have multiple problems with it:

  • The only people being listed are those who already have thousands and thousands of followers. I was personally already following anyone on that list I cared about.
  • The list is fairly static
  • There is no clear way to get yourself on the list, beyond knowing someone at twitter.
  • The list isn’t “fair.” One newspaper has already complained because another newspaper has had multiple feeds listed, they have done, and can’t figure out how to fix it.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any actual logic to what’s in the list. You’d expect the list to cover a wide range of interests, but it’s all sorts of weird.

The list is truly akin to an advertisement, which, let me make clear, I have absolutely no problem with. When I was at MySpace, we created (and this still exists) an Editor’s Pick spot for applications that would receive the same sort of promotion as paid ads, but would be clearly designated as an editorial choice. Ads would be marked as ads, and anyone who wanted to be featured could ask to be listed (btw, if interested, head over to http://developer.myspace.com) more information about this program is here:  In fact, everywhere I’ve worked in the last, oh, 10+ years, has a rule that ads must state they’re ads.

The Suggested User “ads,” while not being a result of money being paid (as far as we know), are clearly there because of….something. Is it knowing the right person at Twitter, is it having a certain number of followers, is it ‘quality’ of what the person says, is it some sort of evaluation of the person themselves, what? “Payments” do not always involve cash.

Suggesting users is a great idea. The problem is in the execution, and, really, all issues that are fairly easily fixed. It is to Twitter’s benefit in the long run to make sure their users are not all following the same 20 people, and to possibly create a revenue model that doesn’t exist right now.

If the list is editorial, it should be rotated, and be pulling from a larger segment of users than just the ones who are already popular. Twitter should also tell people what the requirements are to end up on that list. If the list is going to be the result of paid sponsorships, that’s fine as well, it should just be marked as such.

Until the issues with that list are fixed, if you want to find new people to follow, I recommend checking out the #followfriday hashtag over at twitter search. You’ll be exposed to a much larger and more diverse segment of the Twitterverse than you will on the Suggested Users page.

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