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Posts Tagged ‘SUL’

Twitter Introduces ‘Suggestions’ (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Twitter’s Suggested Users List (SUL) was a controversial and in my opinion poorly-implemented feature that provided newcomers to the platform with a selection of recommendations for them to follow when they first signed up. The idea of introducing first-time users to the concept of following was a good one; where the SUL failed was in gifting a privileged few hundreds of thousands of free followers which were then easily translated into a significant increase in status, web traffic and (by default) advertising revenue.

Yesterday on their official blog, Twitter announced the launch of Suggestions, which they are touting as a superior replacement for the SUL.

In his pitch for Suggestions, Twitter product manager Josh Elman writes:

“We’ve found that the power of suggestion can be a great thing to help people get started, but it’s important that we suggest things relevant to them. We’ve created a number of algorithms to identify users across a variety of clusters who tweet actively and are engaged with their audiences. These new algorithms help us group these active users into lists of users by interests. Rather than suggesting a random set of 20 users for a new user to follow, now we let users browse into the areas they are interested in and choose who they want to follow from these lists. These lists will be refreshed frequently as the algorithms identify new users who should be suggested in these lists and some that are not as engaging to new users will be removed.”

Which is all well and good. Except, when you look at it closely, and with one exception, it’s really just the same SUL it always was. The only major difference is the same suggested users we had previously have now been categorised.

Twitter Introduces 'Suggestions' (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Browse the Suggestions page here. The first tab (‘Browse Suggestions’) is where you’ll find the SUL, except they’ve now made things easier for you by tagging everybody in one of twenty different categories.

(New users see this.)

So, for example, when you click on Entertainment, you’ll see a list of the same celebrities and entertainment brands that have always been on the suggested user list.

Twitter Introduces 'Suggestions' (i.e., The Same Old SUL With A Different Coat Of Paint)

Likewise for all the other nineteen categories, too, which includes Staff Picks and Staff Picks For Haiti. Elman writes that these differ from the other categories in that those listed inside are manually selected, but as you would expect, it’s not quite clear how these entries are determined. Highlighting a good cause is a nice idea, but Twitter’s lack of transparency in everything it does is becoming a little tiresome.

What is curious is how some of these people are verified users, and some are not. There’s always been a clear USA-bias towards the verification of accounts on Twitter, but why Anthony Edwards gets the stamp of approval and Roger Ebert does not, yet both qualify as recommendations, is something only God/Biz Stone knows.

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CORRECTION: Twitter Didn't Bite Back, Didn't Pull @TechCrunch From The Suggested User List

You know – I had a feeling about this one right before I hit the publish button, and should have perhaps sat on things for a little while. But there you go – lessons learned.

Twitter didn’t pull @TechCrunch from the SUL. Valleywag have just revised their story. They were kind enough to tip me off (thanks @ryantate) but there’s still egg on my face. Apologies to all concerned. I really should know better.

Knowing my luck, Twitter will go ahead and do this anyway. Still, I’ve left my original piece below so I can bear the full impact of the shame. Threats of litigation to the usual address. Thanks.


No real surprise after yesterday’s Twittergate shenanigans, but Twitter has pulled the TechCrunch account from the controversial suggested user list (reports Valleywag).

Regular readers will be fully aware of my feelings about the SUL – while I support the concept of recommending people to follow in principle, the way Twitter goes about it is both cock-eyed and decidedly unfair. Those lucky enough to be given a spot on the list benefit from tens of thousands of new followers on a near-daily basis. The rest of us have to earn our crust the old-fashioned way – by being interesting and useful.

So, hardly the biggest shock that TechCrunch isn’t an account that Twitter wants to recommend to newcomers, but this decision doesn’t reflect well on the social network, either. Indeed, it rather underlines the superficiality of the SUL and further supports the notion that the only reason anybody makes that list is because they’re almost exclusively pro-Twitter or work at Twitter. Or both.

No doubt the attention TechCrunch has been receiving the past few days will ensure that their Twitter network numbers don’t dip too much – and one assumes this will free them up to run riot – but typically when somebody is removed from the SUL their account completely flatlines. (See iJustine, although the gains she has seen in the past couple of days suggests she might be back on there.) This, of course, perfectly illustrates just how much of a gift the list is for anybody on Twitter. Even a blog as well-renowned as TechCrunch.

And they’re only about 65,000 users short of a cool million, too.

Three Ways Twitter Could (And Should) Improve The Suggested User List

Yesterday, my article about the measurable benefits of Twitter’s suggested user list (SUL) attracted quite a lot of attention, both within this blog and around the internet. This was furthered by some interesting comments from those I mentioned in my piece.

Three Ways Twitter Could (And Should) Improve The Suggested User ListThe thing is – it’s very easy to rag all over something as obviously bunk as Twitter’s SUL, without actually suggesting an alternative. Hence, and in the interests of balance, here are three ways I think that the suggested user list could be significantly improved.


Twitter could radically improve the value of the SUL by personalising it to the new user. This would be best accomplished by asking questions about interests, hobbies, sport and club affiliations, employment, etc, during set-up, to build a richer profile in order to best match recommendations. The very basic 160-character ‘bio’ that we have now is pretty useless.

Twitter would scan your data, and recommend 20-50 users for the new user to follow to get started. This would not be pre-selected in any way. If you didn’t like the list, maybe you could click the button and Twitter would roll the dice again.

These more in-depth profiles would remain private and would only be analysed when looking for follower recommendations.


Twitter could continue to use a pre-selected list of a few hundred suggested users, but instead of just giving you a random selection of these when you sign up, Twitter would tailor the list to your interests. This could be accomplished through the use of a richer profile set-up (as above), or by simply asking a few questions each time you require more suggested users to follow.

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CHART: @iJustine’s Plateau Reveals The True Benefits Of Being On The Twitter Suggested User List

Last night I was involved in a fascinating discussion with Robert Scoble and others on Friendfeed about the merits of Twitter’s controversial suggested users list (SUL).

Robert, who has never been on the SUL, shared his hypothesis that the people on the SUL have an inflated follow count that they cannot replicate on other social networks (Friendfeed, Facebook, etc). He used tech guru Tim O’Reilly as an example. Ultimately, O’Reilly arrived and participated in the debate. I encourage you to read the full thread on Friendfeed.

Why does being on the SUL matter? Predominately, it affords the lucky few a huge advantage in building the numbers of followers in their network. At the beginning of March, Tim O’Reilly had just over 40,000 followers on Twitter.

Check out his chart over the past three months:


For comparative purposes, check out Robert Scoble’s chart for this same period. At the beginning of March, Robert had about 67,000 followers.


The different here is considerable. Scoble had seen an increase in his follower count of about 23,000 – some 32 per cent. Over the same period, O’Reilly has gained about half a million followers, an increase of almost 400 per cent.

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