It’s mid-2010 and the social web is finally getting comfortable with the opening and exploitation of the “social graph.” It likely helped that Facebook took a bit of backlash over the past few months to pave the way for the rest. And now, like any good social network should, Twitter is beginning to show the cards that we (the users) dealt it.
Twitter’s “Who to Follow” personalized suggestions can now be seen in the right-hand sidebar of the Twitter.com user web app and under this tab. This is familiar territory to anyone who uses Facebook or even Amazon. Twitter knows who you follow and who follows you back as well as who many in your circle follow that you do not yet follow. Hence the social graph. It’s a wild and crazy algorithm, but if you think about it in physical terms, we all have friends that we want to introduce specifically to other friends. And it should be assumed that by using Twitter, you hope to communicate with and discover new peers, business partners, etc.
Why Do We Want the Social Web to Know Us?
Because this is what web 2.0 is all about. You can surf anonymously – using anything from Tor to the private browsing feature in Safari browsers. But for the fully-featured and most valuable web experience, it’s best to surf with an identity. This is why Google asks you to login when you search — it knows your history (assuming you have the feature enabled) and can personalize the search experience for you. This is why Facebook takes whatever info you enter into your profile and advertises accordingly. Are these businesses manipulating us? Absolutely not. You pay nothing for these services and in return they optimize the experience by delivering content that is relevant to you. And yet you can easily manipulate it for yourself. For example, I took “single” out of my Facebook profile months ago as I grew tired of endless ads for dating sites featuring strangely acronym-ed women who apparently are appropriate for my age. While this hasn’t led to any confusion (nobody’s asked why I’m not listed as “single”), nor has it led to any good fortune (I still am single). But I never have to look at those scary ads anymore.
Twitter isn’t as blatant with its advertising but the service has been criticized for it’s curated Suggested Users lists in the past. (I’ve documented my experience with this here). In this case — and it’s Twitter’s third attempt at a suggested follow device I believe — it is done right. There could be some more options for opting out but I look forward to seeing how this gets incorporated into the Twitter API and the hundreds of mobile, desktop, and web-based Twitter clients that each have their own features.
Old vs. New
The biggest difference is that the new feature is not curated (other than algorithmically) and — more importantly — it gives context as to why you might want to follow these users by listing friends of yours who already follow said user. One third-party app that I previously found to do this quite well is Refollow.com.
Now if only Twitter would help make it easier for me to follow so many damn awesome people without getting overwhelmed I might have some fun with this feature myself.
From the Twitter blog:
Today we’re beginning to roll out a simple, but powerful new feature to help address that — “Suggestions for You”. The algorithms in this feature, built by our user relevance team, suggest people you don’t currently follow that you may find interesting. The suggestions are based on several factors, including people you follow and the people they follow. You’ll see these suggestions on Twitter.com and the Find People section. If you like a suggestion, click “follow”; if you don’t, click “hide,” and we’ll try not to suggest that user again.