Twitter to get less suggestive

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Twitter chief Biz Stone has confirmed the microblogging site is to drop its “suggested users list”. The service gave new Twitter account holders ideas for people to follow but had attracted claims of bias.

When new users sign up to the service, they are presented with a list of around 500 suggestions of accounts to follow. The list is manually selected by company staff and is based on a combination of how many followers an account has, how often it is updated and how much the account holder responds to other users, along with subjective ideas about suitable candidates. The list, which is regularly updated, is an eclectic mix of celebrities, public figures, businesses and bloggers.

Inclusion on the list certainly seemed to make a major difference to the accounts. One study found that being on the list gave an account an average of 53,000 extra followers, while those which stayed on there for a month picked up just under 200,000 followers.

If you think how much a firm would pay to be able to have direct contact with 200,000 people who had volunteered to receive information from it, you can imagine how prized the list had become to those using Twitter for commercial purposes. The list prompted some complaints that the list created a virtuous circle: those who already had a large number of followers were thus more likely to appear on it and thus extend their audience even faster.

The issue had received particular attention recently because two leading Democrat candidates in the race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as Californian governor were on the list, while no Republican candidates were mentioned. That even led to arguments that the Democrat candidates should list their inclusion on the list as an “in kind” benefit on their records of campaign contributions.

Stone now says the list will be replaced by a system which comes up with a tailor-made list of suggestions for each new user, largely working on an automated system that takes account of a user’s interests.

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