Last month, Twitter CEO and co-founder Evan Williams stated that he “desperately” wanted to retire the company’s suggested user list – the list of Twitter accounts shown to new users of the service to help them find interesting people to follow. At the time, he hinted that it might evolve into something more “Twittery and democratic.” But now, what was a “maybe” before has turned into a “definitely.” Speaking at a conference in Malaysia, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told reporters that the suggested users list will be “going away” and “in its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions.”
According to an AP article released today, Stone explained that the new suggested users list would be more tailored to the users’ interests, but he did not say how exactly the company would accomplish this task. He also would not confirm when the current list would be removed or replaced.
The Suggested Users List, commonly abbreviated “SUL,” has long been a source of controversy for the company. Meant to offer a helpful introduction to Twitter novices about what sort of interesting people, companies, and services can be found on Twitter, the list has angered many who felt it was a way Twitter could show favoritism towards some accounts while ignoring others potentially more worthy of inclusion.
Noted tech legend Dave Winer argued that Twitter was taking an editorial interest in their service, and one that rapidly inflated the follower counts of those blessed with Twitter’s “gift.” Meanwhile, Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis offered the company half a million dollars for three years on the list. (Twitter didn’t take him up on the offer.)
The benefits to getting on the list are great indeed. Users added to the SUL, gained on average of 53,000 new followers after being on the list for a week and 170,000 within the first month. Some users even gained as many as 370,000 in the first 30 days.
For a service favored by marketers, businesses, and other self-promoters, placement on the SUL was a surefire ticket to Twitter stardom. New followers meant more traffic to the websites linked in the Twitter updates and more traffic meant more money could be made through on-site advertising. It was almost as if Twitter itself was writing you a check.
Thankfully, in this case, Twitter has listened to their community and is planning on a more egalitarian system. The only question now is how will they know which accounts to suggest? Of course, there is still the old stand-by method of importing your email address book to suggest users you already know who are on the service. But what Twitter plans on offering sounds a little more robust. Perhaps they will introduce an algorithm that takes into account a Twitter user’s “authority?”
If that’s the case, Twitter may be jumping out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire. This is because there isn’t solid agreement as to how “authority” should be calculated. Late last year, Twitter app Seesmic creator’s Loic Le Meur started a heated back-and-forth on the matter when he wrote a blog post which said that Twitter should rank search results by the number of followers you have. More followers meant more authority, he said. Social media guru and blogger Robert Scoble quickly countered saying that the number of people you follow was actually a more important number as is the number of retweets, the number of favorited tweets, the number of inbound links to a tweet and the number of clickthroughs on an item in Twitter search. Soon, the entire tech blogosphere was engaged in the discussion with seemingly every blog weighing in with their opinion.
And this was only a casual discussion among Twitter users based on one person’s suggestion. Imagine what an official policy change by Twitter will lead to! Clearly, no matter what the company comes up with, it’s bound to be heavily debated and discussed. In any event, it will definitely be worth the wait to find out what that is.