Twitter to change Suggested Users list

As I wrote about at the time, Ashoka was fortunate to have been placed on the Twitter  Suggested Users list in early October. The power of this list is amazing. We had about 9,000 followers when added, now we're over 150,000. You can see the effect here. However, most of these new followers are not choosing to follow Ashoka, they are simply accepting Twitter suggestions for 300 people to follow to kick off their twitter experience. And it's a very diverse/random list, ranging from politicians both left and right (although there have been complaints about twitter favoring Democratic politicians), lots and lots of celebrities of the music, film and sport variety, twitter developers, business entrepreneurs and a bunch of tweeters chosen by company insiders as interesting.

Media outlets are now reporting that Twitter is planning to "kill" the Suggested Users list. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said at a conference recently that the list was "going away" and "in its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions." This, to me, doesn't sound like "killing", but rather a much-needed update to the Suggested Users model to something that will help people find users who are relevant to their interests, making their Twitter experience more relevant and enjoyable. Currently the list is too large, too broad and too celebrity-heavy to be a truly useful jumping-off point for most people.

What I'm hoping will happen is a simple change to add categories to the Suggested Users list. Instead of being show the entire list when you sign up you should be asked "What are you interested in?" and given the choice to tick categories such as "Celebrities", "Sports", "Non-profits", "Technology", "Businesses", etc. You could choose all of them, and end up with the full list as it currently stands, but I suspect that most people would choose only a few of the categories and so get a much smaller, more focused list of people to start following.

In this way Twitter can still highlight some valuable users, and help new tweeters get over the hump when you join and have nothing in your stream, in a higher-value more contextual way. It could even be a revenue stream for Twitter (we all know they need one or two of those) if they charged businesses to appear on the "Business" list. Most lists, such as "non-profits" (or, better language, "citizen sector organizations"), should not be sold however if they are to retain any credibility.

If this change was implemented it would certainly slow down the growth rate of the Ashoka account, but those that did end of following us would be much more likely to be interested in our work, and thus more likely to participate in or support this work in some way. As importantly it would be better for the new Twitter user as it would help them to pick their filters and craft their twitter experience in a way that is meaningful and interesting to them. This, then, would hopefully reduce the significant burn rate of new accounts (people joining, updating once if at all and then abandoning the service).

It's a new model, not death, that the Suggested Users list needs.