Much-loved micro-blogging service Twitter has recently been undergoing some structural changes. At the end of October, Twitter granted users the ability to sort accounts topical lists. At the beginning of November, the company began testing a built-in re-tweet function only to retract it a few days later, citing a host of unanticipated errors. On Monday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told reporters in Malaysia that Twitter's controversial list of "suggested users" -- 500 accounts handpicked by the company and promoted to new users -- would finally be scrapped. It will be replaced with "something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions."
The list had already attracted a fair amount of criticism for favoring Democrats over Republicans, particularly in the run-up to the 2010 California gubernatorial election. Will the new, yet-to-be detailed method of recommending accounts be more even handed? Tech pundits hope so:
- Coveted by Candidates and Businesspeople At Newszine, the Associated Press's Don Thompson describes how the suggested users list has become so prominent that wealthy Twitter users are willing to pay vast sums to have their accounts featured among the other editorially selected choices. In addition, he says the political capital provided by placement on the suggested users list is considerable: "Even without a firm monetary value, the suggested user list provides a clear advantage by driving more people to a candidate, several campaign advisers said. In turn, candidates can steer followers to their Web sites and donor links."
- 'Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire' At ReadWriteWeb, Sarah Perez is receptive to the news, and eager to find out what Twitter is planning to implement instead of its editorially selected users: "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?…Perhaps they will introduce an algorithm that takes into account a Twitter user's 'authority?'" While she hopes that such an approach would be fairer, she points out that there is no universally acceptable method of determining a twitter user's authority. (Do you measure the number of followers or the number of retweets, both, neither, something else?) Any approach the company takes, however objective, will incite controversy.
- Here's Hoping It Helps Bloggers At CashTurnAround, a financial advising blog, Kristen Nicole ponders whether the bloggers currently represented on Twitter's suggested users list will gain or lose when it gets yanked down. She thinks that depends on how it is implemented. The new, more objective ranking has the potential to help: "For bloggers, the silver lining is that a more custom recommendation process means that potential readers are likely to be the type of quality users bloggers seek. Instead of striving for the reclusive spot on the current Twitter 'SUL' a blogger can stick to their primary areas of interest and attract the right kind of readers. If executed properly, the new Twitter recommendation system could help more bloggers in a more effective way, connecting bloggers with readers that will create longer-lasting relationships and correspondence across the social web."
- Twitter's Following Our Lead Chris Crum, commenting at WebProNews, notes that Twitter seems to be taking a page out of his company's book. Crum is affiliated with Twellow, a directory of public Twitter accounts already divided into categories of notable accounts. Of the new Twitter plan, he writes: "That sounds pretty similar [to ours], but one difference is that Twellow's feature is already available. There's no telling how long it will take for Twitter to actually roll it out. We're still waiting on the retweet feature." However, he commends Twitter for shrewd business intelligence: "[With] a more personalized suggested users list on the way, Twitter should be keeping more people using its service longer."