Kevin Rose, founder of Digg and the man who two years ago removed the Top Diggers List after deciding it could be problematic for his site and its most popular users, yesterday launched WeFollow; a user powered Twitter directory, the idea of which appears to be surprisingly similar to the Top Diggers List.
WeFollow comes hot on the heels of Twitter's own Suggested Users List, which was created to help new users find people to follow. WeFollow attempts to provide a similar service but on a far larger scale.
While not a new idea, WeFollow offers a clean, well-executed design and easily navigable pages that are clearly refreshed often. Rose himself has explained that the site is "very beta" so expect a few hiccups.
The home page displays lists of the five most popular Twitter users under specific tags and includes a link to more information about them. It also shows what appears to be the most frequently used tags; celebrity, tech, music, news, actor, and socialmedia, although this may change. The right sidebar includes a one-click link to add your username to the WeFollow directory, a list of most popular tags (with a search box), and a list of the Top Tweeters.
Twitter users are encouraged to add their username by either clicking a link on the home page or sending a tweet to @wefollow and including a maximum of three tags they would like to be listed under. The tags need to begin with the hash symbol. For instance, ReadWriteWeb could send this tweet: @wefollow #tech #webapps #webnews.
While WeFollow may provide a similar service to Twitter's Suggested User List, that's where the similarities end. Differences include: WeFollow ranks by popularity while Twitter's service does not (although it does appear to influence popularity); WeFollow allows for an infinite number of users while Suggested Users is limited to under 100, and WeFollow encourages everyone to add their Twitter accounts while the Suggested Users List is compiled by Twitter and does not offer users a way for inclusion.
Concerns about Popularity Lists
While the service may be useful if you are looking to follow people within a specific area of interest, a list of Twitter users sorted by follower count raises concerns as it reinforces the existing popular users and doesn't offer easy access to get to know other Twitter folk: the rich get richer, the poor fade away.
Many, though not all, Twitter users find the number of followers directly proportional to influence and believe that more is better. Some users see a large number of followers as a great marketing tool; one that can potentially provide an enormous source of revenue.
Dave Winer, a pioneer of Internet based content distribution, cannot reconcile Twitter's Suggested Users List with what the Internet is about and recently sparked a heated discussion on the Internet concerning the significance of the Suggested Users List and how it can be perceived as a gift from Twitter that is worth money. Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis was in obvious agreement when he told Winer that he had offered Twitter $250K to lock in a spot as one of the top 20 Suggested Users for two years.
Which brings us back to WeFollow. Whether there is any financial reward for having an enormous amount of followers may ultimately be irrelevant. But, the perception of its potential value coupled with the influence it will surely provide may offer enough incentive for some people to try and game the system, and may provide others with a list of users to point the blame stick at when things go wrong.
"And the people who got the push [onto the suggested users list] have a problem if they are members of the press, because this gift they got from Twitter is worth money. It might be worth a lot of money. If one of them posts a pointer on a Twitter account it's going to get a lot of flow. And what if a reporter were critical of Twitter in a piece she wrote, would Twitter revoke her status?" Winer questioned in his post.
Which brings us back to Digg. As Rose noted in 2007 when he was attempting to clear up some of the perceptions that have arisen around attempts to manipulate (game) Digg: "Some of our top users - the people that have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours finding and digging the best stuff - are being blamed by some outlets as leading efforts to manipulate Digg."
And this is why Digg decided removing the Top Diggers List would be the best course of action. And this is why we have to question why the man who rid his own site of such a popularity list would consider creating yet another popularity list for media's latest darling.
You can find ReadWriteWeb on Twitter, as well as the entire RWW Team: Marshall Kirkpatrick, Bernard Lunn, Alex Iskold, Sarah Perez, Frederic Lardinois, Rick Turoczy, Sean Ammirati, Lidija Davis and Phil Glockner.