Posted February 24, 2009 9:18 am by with 4 comments

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twitter-logo1Last month Twitter launched its ‘suggested users’ feature and the impact on those who were put on Twitter’s red carpet has been significant. Some of these profiles saw tens of thousands of additional followers added to their own personal profiles which created some very happy folks and, you guessed it, some not so happy people. The LA Times Tech blog has all the details but here are the high points.

Evan Williams and Biz Stone, co-founders of Twitter put this feature into place last month. When users sign up for a new account (which is happening at a dizzying pace) they are given a list of suggested users to follow. The folks at Twitter were noticing that many folks were signing up then not using the service. The hope by offering this was to get the newbies in the game. Makes sense to me since Twitter can be somewhat daunting for those beyond the early adopter / social media savvy part of the population.

The list includes Felicia Day, The Guardian, Rainn Wilson, Dell, The New York Times and CNN to name a few. The benefit to those who made the cut is very clear:

Since Twitter began endorsing a handful of personalities in mid-January, The Guardian was among several entities to reap a subscriber windfall. Its account jumped from about 4,000 followers to 66,000 in about a month, according to stat-tracking service Twitter Counter. And within the last two weeks, @GuardianTech added new users at a pace about 300% faster than the previous two weeks.

Day, an Internet video maven, experienced similar results. She has jumped from 20,000 to 83,000 since mid-January.

TechCrunch went… from 41,000 to 111,000 in the same period. The New York Times’ Twitter account increased its subscriber base by a factor of six — to 145,000.

The Twitter purists, however, are crying foul. The concern is that those who have grown their following organically and around ‘real’ value (or severe self importance, you make the call) are going to suffer. Leo Laporte of TWIT puts it this way:

“Sometimes it’s a little bit concerning. Because Twitter has a lot of power to, with simple changes like that, change the ecology of the system.”

I like Biz Stone’s take on this because he recognizes that while this has been effective it is not the end of this type of idea but just the beginning. He likens this first take as similar to the staff picks that you see in a bookstore. His desire is to make the feature smarter in the future. He appears to understand both sides of the issue but knows that growth will drive this machine and the quicker the better.

My take is that Twitter can do whatever they want. Twitter is owned by Williams, Stone and its investors and even in today’s world still has the freedom to make business decisions for themselves (for now at least 😉 ). There will be room for everyone to build their following however they want. Giving Twitter the label of its own ecosystem is either interesting or just weird but the usefulness is defined by the individual. Early adopters have to decide how to play with the masses as Twitter gains in popularity. Giving the masses options to get started seems like smart business. I believe that once people grow out of the lemming phase of blindly following anything that tweets they will step away from this and make their own choices. What’s your thought?