Last month Twitter quietly launched a new feature that generated a list of suggested users to follow. Most likely as a result of this list, the followers to many Twitter accounts increased exponential over the course of the last month. @LiveEarth, my employer’s twitter account (which is maintained primarily by me), saw a rise in followers from the mid 2,000s to over 90,000 between January 16 and February 22, when, suddenly, the meteoric rise in followers came to a screeching halt.
I originally had trouble pinpointing the genesis of @LiveEarth’s sudden climb when it began in January — I was hoping for spikes in followers surrounding the events we were involved with, but it was bizarre that our followers were increasing by 500 a day after months of being more or less stagnant. I wasn’t too preoccupied with why, I was just happy that we’d finally gained traction — quick glances at the latest followers didn’t reveal anything all that fishy. At first.
Pretty soon we were picking up 1,000 followers a day, then 1,500, and by the end of last week @LiveEarth was averaging about 4-5,000 new followers every day. In early February, I became convinced that either the suggested users feature was helping to boost Live Earth’s follower count or something fishy was going on. I inquired on FriendFeed to see if others were experiencing the same steady rise in followers and received no concrete responses one way or the other.
The suggested user list came to a controversial head over the past week after Jason Calacanis questioned the sudden rise in followers to @wilw @ijustine and @techcrunch. Brooks Bayne wrote a post suspecting that the suspicious surge of followers may have been automated. “Someone is automating/scripting the creation of fake Twitter profiles and then following a select group of people.
In a comment on Brooks’s post, Twitter cofounder Ev Williams said this was likely the result of the suggested users list. But this list wasn’t generated by some algorithm that generated recommendations based on one’s profile and established follows. It was a static list incorporated as the “last page of the signup process,” according to Ev.
LiveCrunch listed about 50 accounts believed to be on the original “suggested list.” LiveCrunch suggested the list was comprised of influencers as defined by Twitter staff. But why can’t Twitter recommend or suggest users to follow? Should #followfriday be banned too? Are the numbers really that important?
Last weekend Robert Scoble went off on the concept of recommending “influentials” suggesting it was possible that users could pay-to-play — give Twitter money and gain recommended status. At first I thought Scoble was joking. It seemed ridiculous that Twitter would accept money from a select group of users and nobody would leak (or even suggest it) for more than a month. But people got increasingly pissed (Scoble made this comment on Friendfeed which has a similar-yet-different recommended friends function). Even the LA Times wondered why none of its 80 Twitter feeds were featured.
On Sunday I noticed that @LiveEarth’s follower count had hardly budged and concluded that the suggested users listed had been refreshed to feature a batch of recommended accounts.
This is what I had always expected would happen. I also expect the follower account to diminish drastically as soon as Twitter expunges many accounts in a maintenance sweep of fraudulent and/or spammy accounts.
Does Twitter’s “suggested users” feature diminish the value of inflated follower counts? Should a better system be put into place to help n00bs get started? Should we really be taking this so seriously in the first place?
Speaking for @netZoo, I’m happy with Twitter just the way it is.