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Comments on the NY Times piece

Sunday, June 14, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A lot of people told me to stop writing about it, but Twitter's Suggested User List was just plain wrong, and I was sure that it would become more evident over time, and it has. Here's a brief recap. Permalink to this paragraph

1. Until early this year, follower-count was evolving as a user-developed way for Twitter users to give authority to each other. Like all things in Twitter, it was crude, a better version could have been designed, but that's the way things work in Twitter.  Permalink to this paragraph

2. People like Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis and Leo Laporte, and to a lesser extent myself, brought authority with us from other places. In this way we were investing in Twitter, every bit as much as Union Square or Spark Capital.  Permalink to this paragraph

3. The major tech pubs (Mashable, Om, TechCrunch) mostly ignored Twitter. They had much lower follower counts than the people above. Same with the celebs, Oprah, Ashton Kutcher, etc who weren't present at all until early this year. Permalink to this paragraph

4. Follower-count worked very much the way eBay users rate each other, same with Amazon.  Permalink to this paragraph

5. The reason follower-count was so big was its huge visibility in the user interface. It was the biggest number you'd see when you clicked on someone's profile. In FriendFeed, where follower-count is visible but fairly buried, it isn't a big part of the culture. (I don't have any idea what my own follower count is in FF, in Twitter it's about 23K.) Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named skittles.gif6. Then Twitter adds the Suggested User List to the mix. The way I discovered it was noticing that @anamariecox's follower count, which had been around 3000, had jumped to 40,000 then 50,000 then 60,000, all in a matter of days. No one could figure out why until @ev posted a comment on a blog explaining. Then we could see the effect all over the place. All kinds of random people were jumping in follower counts only because they were on the SUL. Permalink to this paragraph

7. I wrote a piece on March 12 asking if a reporter could accept so much extra juice, for free, without disclosing.  Permalink to this paragraph

8. Then the celebs come. Kutcher's campaign. Oprah. Cover of Time. Etc. Twitter explodes. Good for them. In the meantime, our investment is swamped, more or less lost. I don't begrudge celebs for their followers, as long as they earned them, as long as they brought users in as we did in step #2 above. What I object to, what anyone would object to, is Twitter gaming the system to favor people who did nothing to earn their follower count.  Permalink to this paragraph

9. That's where it stayed until this morning when the NY Times ran a piece that more or less lays it out the way I've told the story. They add things I wasn't willing to add -- the utter incompetence and lazyness, lack of thought, lack of caring in any way about the users of Twitter. It's time for some sobriety. People don't like being pushed around like this. I've looked into the thought behind the SUL and found the same thing that the Times did. There is none. It's insiders doing favors for other insiders. It's newly rich and powerful entrepreneurs throwing their weight around, rewarding people and publications that do their bidding, and punishing those who are independent. Permalink to this paragraph

10. What is so frustrating about this is that Twitter has this incredible promise as a platform for journalism. How ironic that the NYT piece comes out as the people of Tehran are using Twitter, putting their lives on the line, to route around a corrupt government.  Permalink to this paragraph

11. At some point there must be a way for users to convey authority for other users that isn't spoiled and polluted like Twitter's follower-count is. PageRank for people. We were bootstrapping a way to do that until the company blew it up. This opens the door for Twitter's competitors to take advantage, and come up with a way to convey authority that isn't subject to gaming. No vendor should put their finger on the scale to favor one person or organization over another. I want a level playing field, I want as much of a chance as anyone else. When I find out someone else is cutting in line, I lose all interest. I have lost that kind of interest in follower-count. Give me another field to play on, this one is spoiled. I don't see any way for them to fix it. We're going to have to start over from scratch to do that. Shame. We had a really good thing going. Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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Last update: 6/14/2009; 7:14:59 PM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

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