Last week, Twitter started testing out a “Who to follow” feature. Basically, it’s a recommendation engine for who you should follow, similar to ones that Facebook and others use. At the time, I noted it was a good idea and should bulk up their social graph. But today I actually got the feature activated on my account — I believe I vastly understated what this feature could mean.
The main way most users will interact with this new feature is in the sidebar. There, right below your tweet stats, you’ll see the two users that Twitter is suggesting that you might like to follow. How do they determine this? If you click the “view all” link (or go to the Find People area) you’ll notice this is all based on the people you’re already connected and who they follow. Again, this is like the feature Facebook has.
But I think Twitter’s implementation may be even more effective than Facebook’s.
Facebook continues to be more about people you actually know. Just because a friend of yours knows someone, it doesn’t mean you will. If it’s a lot of friends that you share in common, that’s a good indicator, but that whittles down the possibilities. With Twitter, people often follow other users they don’t know at all. In fact, I’d bet that’s the case most of the time.
That’s why this is massive. The first two user suggestions Twitter served up to me were both solid. I followed both. A page refresh brought two more. Also good. I’ve already added about 15 people — and normally I’m fairly controlled about that. These suggestions are just very good.
And the fact that you can follow the people right from this sidebar with one click is the key. Everyone is going to see these every time they hit Twitter (unless they use the awesome new Twitter User Streams clients). And it’s two new ones each time (though, obviously, they cycle through).
And if you want more that just the two suggestions, you can follow the “view all” link and find dozens of people suggested for you to follow in one list. And here you can also hide certain users you know you won’t want to follow. They will no longer appear in your suggestions.
Beginning last week around the time Twitter started testing this feature, I started to notice that I was gaining followers much more quickly than usual. I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it had to do with this feature. Now I’m almost certain that’s what it is. Again, this is going to greatly strengthen Twitter’s social graph. It’s seriously like social steroids.
One problem Twitter has always had is noise. It’s easy to follow as many people as possible — until you actually see them making your stream noisy beyond use. That’s why I’ve loved tools like ManageTwitter, which make it easy to see who you should no longer follow.
So we have two forces potentially working against each other here. Luckily, Twitter now has a filter feature: Lists. They allow you to follow people without actually following them.
If Twitter included a super quick way to add certain people to lists, that would be great. Currently, you can click on their profile and add them to a list (without having to follow them) — but again, it’s all about the sidebar widget. A nice little List drop down would work nicely here, I think.
Noise or not, my bet is that this feature is going to be huge for Twitter. Most people should be seeing it now. Watch your follower counts.
What this means for third-parties doing these kind of recommendations, remains to be seen. Interestingly enough, the most popular of these, Mr. Tweet, is apparently undergoing a major overhaul which was due to be completed in July — it’s now August. And again, the main killer aspect of Twitter’s solution is that it’s on Twitter.com front and center. That will be hard to compete against.
As an interesting side note, with the Who to follow widget now placed so prominently, Twitter has shoved the small promotional ad unit to the bottom of the right sidebar. Hopefully no one is paying for those (which, as far as I know, they aren’t) because they’re about to get clicked on a lot less.
Update: And one more “But” — Twitter definitely needs to add an option to make the area collapsable, just like the other areas in the sidebar.