Twitter tweaks suggested users lists

Ronny Kerr · January 22, 2010 · Short URL:

First substantial Twitter update of the year: first step towards reversing rate of growth drop-off?

Twitter announced changes to its site on Thursday afternoon that will update the way Suggested Users List (SUL) work.

The SUL is now organized by categories, including Music, Sports, Technology, and many others. Clicking on any these topics generates 20 Twitter users within that category who the new algorithms think you should follow.


"We've created a number of algorithms to identify users across a variety of clusters who tweet actively and are engaged with their audiences," writes Josh Elman, from Twitter's product team. "These new algorithms help us group these active users into lists of users by interests."

Just for fun, Twitter has created a set of "Staff Picks," hand-picked Twitter employee favorites. They've additionally set up a "Staff Picks for Haiti" group, filled with Twitter users delivering the latest news from Haiti.

Twitter suffered a serious drop-off in new users starting last fall, according to a report released this week by HubSpot Inc. Whereas in the spring Twitter had seen its growth rate at around 13%, by October of the same year that rate had dwindled to 3.5%. Though HubSpot says current Twitter users are actually becoming better at what they do on the site, the microblogging site will definitely need to make some expansive changes to the site if it wants to maintain its prominence it has been building for so long.

Making headlines for tweets from President Obama and a new account from Bill Gates won't carry the service forever.

Elman says the updated SUL is the first of many changes that will be coming to Twitter.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.

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