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Twitter's 'suggested users' get mammoth boost from new feature [UPDATED]

Twittersuggestedusers
A sampling of Twitter's "suggested users."

Some high-profile Twitter accounts have been seeing astronomical jumps in the number of users subscribing to their profile updates -- tens of thousands of new followers, in some cases.

A feature launched last month, called "suggested users," contributed to the spike, explained Evan Williams, Twitter's co-founder and chief executive.

As part of the sign-up process, new users are now shown a sort of featured personalities list that includes a wide variety of popular people and companies. Included are U.K. newspaper The Guardian's technology page, Web personality Felicia Day, TechCrunch, actor Rainn Wilson, computer maker Dell, grocer Whole Foods, the New York Times and CNN.

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.

Williams said Twitter added the feature because many users fall off from the service quickly after singing up, likely because they're not sure what to do next.

"The reason we created this feature is because lots of people sign up to Twitter but aren't following anyone, so we're trying to help get them started," Williams wrote in a comment on a blog post about the follower phenomenon.

Some bloggers and Twitter micro-bloggers took issue with the approach. Since the service began, they said, many Twitter users have invested time and energy into building their user bases into a valuable resource. They complained that the changes interfere with that kind of organic growth.

"People who see the importance of Twitter start asking these kinds of questions," said Leo Laporte, who runs the TWIT podcasting network and until recently was one of Twitter’s top five users. He is now the 27th-most popular user, according to Twitterholic.com. "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."

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone acknowledged that offering "suggested users" wasn't the ideal solution and suggested that the service might evolve to cater to particular users' interests. "Right now it's sort of like staff picks at your local bookstore," he wrote in an e-mail. "Later, we hope to make this smarter."

But a more dynamic -- and less subjective -- recommendation system may not be coming any time soon. "It's not super-high on the priority list," Stone said.

Fair enough. But your staff picks include two New York Times accounts and not a single one of the LA Times' 80 Twitter feeds? That's a slap in the face, Twitter.

Just kidding. We're still cool.

Updated 11 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the LA Times has nearly three dozen Twitter feeds. There are actually 80.

-- Mark Milian

 
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