First a few necessary recitals.
1. I've written about the Suggested Users List many times.
2. It was a terrible idea and poorly implemented, because...
3. It created two levels of users, insiders and outsiders, illustrating and propogating the bad attitude of Silicon Valley tech companies relative to their users.
4. It screwed with the integrity of every person and organization that was on the list, or who hoped to be on it. Would they be more likely to praise Twitter, and less likely to criticize them, if they're on it or want to be on it? I think it was pretty obvious at times that they used it as a tool to control the press.
5. It destroyed the value of the one potential metric for authority, follower count. For people on the list, the number became meaningless. The argument that no one pays attention to follower counts is easily disproved by countless press reports where number of followers is cited as evidence of popularity and authority.
6. It also screwed with the integrity of people who aren't on the list. Tim O'Reilly accused both Scoble and myself of criticizing the list because we weren't on it. So cynical! (And wrong.) He had lots of company in making that accusation, btw.
7. Further, recommendation engines are not and never have been rocket science. There are a number of developers, without access to all the information that twitter.com has, who've done a much better job than the SUL or its new incarnation (more on that in a bit).
8. Facebook has a recommendation engine which is eerily good at predicting who I'll be interested in hooking up with. It tends to spot people who I've decided deliberately not to befriend. Annoying, but proves the point that this is one thing that algorithms do better than humans.
9. Probably the worst thing about the SUL is that it rubs our nose in the fact that we're slaves to corporate media, that our presence here is owned and controlled by a company that hasn't established any boundaries of what it will and won't do, no matter what effect that might have on editorial content. People who assume that Twitter won't do something because it's unfair, unwise, or hurts the integrity of the users or the platform, are making a baseless assumption. They've proven otherwise, through the horrific example of the Suggested User List.
Okay, so yesterday they released a new version of the SUL, and it's missing one of the most disturbing things about the SUL -- that it created a random list of 20 elite Twitterers for each new user to follow. How new users find followers now is again a mystery -- but none of my business. I totally don't care about that. That really is between Twitter and the new users. But the damage is done. Follower-count is a meaningless metric. There are two levels of users. Maybe the integrity issue is gone, but who knows what the next iteration of the SUL will look like. They haven't said.
Now, the twist. They put me on the new list. Since I found out I was there, I haven't posted anything on my Twitter account, because that's a terrible place to discuss something like this, and until I decide what to do I want to be very clear about whether I've gained from being on the new list. I can't benefit from it if I don't post. Also there are still too many unknowns about the new setup. There's been no communication from an officer of the company about what this means and what the future holds.
I'm going to stop right there for now. If you have any thoughts please post them here. As usual, personal comments will be moderated. You can use your own blog for that. Stick to the topics in this post, and no name-calling. Thanks.
Update: Twittercism calls it the "Same old SUL with a different coat of paint."
Update: I asked to be removed from the list.