Twitter Wants An Interest Graph: Now Tracking Your Browsing To Make Follow Suggestions

Twitter does a lot of things right, but it still hasn’t solved the problem of turning its noise into signal. After joining Twitter, it can take a lot of following and unfollowing scores of accounts before you’ve curated a stream that makes sense for you. With its platform growing fast, Twitter is looking to make the onboarding process a little easier (and more personalized) for new users, which is why it announced today via its blog that it will begin serving users tailored suggestions of who they should follow.

Twitter is calling its new personalization features “experiments,” (in other words, they’re in beta), which will manifest for users in several ways. The first being that it will show new users a list of recommended accounts, which will be accompanied by a timeline that features tweets from those recommended accounts. New users (who are part of the beta testing) will see the list as soon as they sign up, but will not be required to follow their suggestions.

For those of us already using The Twitters, if you’re a lucky winner, you’ll begin to see Twitter’s suggestions in the “Who To Follow” box on the left side of your homescreen. From what we can tell, the box won’t be altered from its current placement/design, but will instead just start showing more relevant suggestions. To see who Twitter will recommend for you, check out their preview page here.

So, how exactly is Twitter going about serving you these recommendations? The suggestions are “based on accounts followed by other Twitter users and visits to websites in the Twitter ecosystem,” meaning that Twitter is culling the data that it receives from other websites that are utilizing its buttons/widgets, identifying the accounts that are most followed by people who visit those sites, and recommending it to you based on similarities with those users in your own Twitter activity.

Twitter will be offering the ability to turn this functionality off. This comes with the context of the announcement earlier today that Twitter will be supporting Mozilla’s “Do Not Track” feature, which allows users to opt-out of those pesky third-party cookies, including … wait for it … those used in advertising.

This morning, that seemed just a symbolic gesture on Twitter’s part, because they weren’t really tracking you anyway. With the addition of their follow recommendation engine, now this move makes perfect sense, and is obviously timed perfectly. Now Twitter can just say that, hey, if you don’t like it tracking your activity, turn on Do Not Track. As to who’s supporting: Firefox, Safari and IE9 already have some form of Do Not Track features built-in, but it seems that only Firefox is really evangelizing. However, all three browsers should be compatible with DNT, and allow for opt-outs.

There is more information about Twitter’s integration with Do Not Track reflected in its privacy policy, so, as mentioned, if you’ve got it enabled in one of those browsers, you won’t see any tailored suggestions. With the heightened interest and concern over the way social networks (and beyond) are using our personal data, this is a smart move on Twitter’s part to ensure users that it’s taking transparency (and privacy) seriously.

The other important piece of this is that people who are new to Twitter will see an option to tailor their feeds based on the sites they’re visiting from twitter, accompanied by a “learn more” link, whereas current users will find a “personalization” section added to their account settings.

Users can disable personalization at any time, which prevents Twitter from collecting information on your activity, and as the blog post adds, “You can even choose to turn off tailored suggestions from the preview page (which shows some suggestions we’d make for you).”

What’s really interesting here is that this is the first sign of Twitter getting serious about building its own interest graph, as if you’d ever get tired of all this “graph” talk, right? But this is the social network’s first big move that shows it following in the footsteps of Facebook, as the more personal info they collect on your interests and activity on their platform, the more info there is to feed targeted advertising and tweets.

For more, check out Twitter’s blog post here, and current users can test out preview here. Do Not Track info here. Do Not Track info here.

Additional reporting from Frederic Lardinois