Friday, July 30, 2010

Twitter Blows It with "Who to Follow" Feature

There is an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately, it seems as if most major websites simply will not follow this rule. It was a few years ago that IMDB rolled out a new version of their website that is vastly inferior to their old one. Facebook constantly seems to be changing, to the point that often things simply do not work there. Last week Google rolled out a new version of Google Images that is so inferior to the old version that Google users are still complaining. Sadly, it now seems Twitter has gotten into the act of fixing that which is not broken.

Today Twitter rolled out a new "Who to Follow" feature. Basically, this feature was designed by Twitter's user relevance team to suggest Twitter users one does not currently follow. The "Who to Follow" feature relies upon an algorithm that draws upon such factors as the people one currently follows and the people they follow. If one does not like a suggestion made by the feature, he or she can simply click "hide" and that particular suggestion will never show up again. The "Who to Follow" feature can be found near the top of the right hand sidebar of one's Twitter. It can also be accessed through the "Find Friends" link.

Now as changes go, the "Who to Follow" feature is not as drastic as the sort Facebook makes on a regular basis and not nearly as horrendous as the change Google made to Google Images last week. It does not seem to interfere with the operation of Twitter and I must admit, that for the most part its suggestions seem to be on the head (except for Lady Gaga--why on Earth would I follow her?). That having been said, the "Who to Follow" feature is objectionable for a number of reasons.

Not the least of these is the fact that its name, "Who to Follow," is grammatically incorrect. It should be "Whom to Follow." Beyond that minor caveat there is the fact that it sits near the top of the right sidebar, which means users have to scroll down even further to see their Lists, the Trending topics , and whom they are following. Worse yet, there is no way to hide the "Who to Follow" feature as there is no way to hide it as there is for Lists, Trending Topics, and Following. Another problem is that for users such as me, who have been on Twitter for quite some time, the "Who to Follow" feature is nearly useless. I already follow over 170 people. Unless someone is terribly interesting, I see no reason to add more people whom I follow. The "Who to Follow" feature is then something that just sits there on my screen for which I have little use.

I will confess, I am only mildly irked that Twitter has added a feature for which I have no use and which cannot be hidden. There are others who seem to be very angry that the feature was added. One only has to type "Who to Follow" in the search box to see the many complaints. Some examples: "Don't tell me who to follow, Twitter, that's what Fridays are for;" "Am not liking this 'Who to Follow' (censored by me) on my sidebar;" "Ugh. I'm sick of this "who to follow" (censored by me). I wouldn't follow that Paramore (censored by me) if I was paid to;" " I hate that "Who To Follow" thing they added;" and so on. Quite clearly Twitter has angered many of its users by adding a feature they not only did not want, but they openly detest.

I sincerely hope that Twitter does not take the same path taken years ago by IMDB and on a recurring basis by Facebook of ignoring the gripes of its users.  The plain fact is that websites depend upon their users to survive. It is also a plain fact that when users become too unhappy they will leave. There are those who claim that MySpace fell so far because it was simply a fad. I do not think this is the case myself. I think it is because MySpace changed so much of late to the point that at times it is hardly functional. I know that is why I do not go to MySpace very often any more, and I suspect that I am not alone in that. Ultimately, if Twitter wants to keep its users happy, it had best do away with the "Who to Follow" feature or at least give users a means of hiding it.


kate gabrielle said...

I didn't even notice this yet since I hardly ever use the web version of twitter (mostly I use tweetdeck, seesmic and twhirl) but it is really annoying. Two things really bother me the most -- that because of this algorithm people with the most followers will tend to be recommended more, and that this might make it easier for spambots to find people to follow & pick on.

Etsy unveiled a really similar feature a few months ago that "suggests" sellers to buyers based on who has the most favorited items and shop hearts -- again, it favors the popular sellers and the people with the most followers.

It's amazing that all of these sites keep coming up with really stupid changes instead of working on fixing things that would actually be helpful (like, for twitter, doing something to minimize the amount of down-time)

As you know, this is a huge pet peeve with me ;-)

Raquel Stecher said...

For some reason, I never got access to this feature. I would have loved more suggestions on whom to follow in terms of classic film tweeps. And I use when I'm on my computer and Echofon & the official Twitter app on my iPhone. Why can't I see it?

Maybe they hid it from me!

Raquel Stecher said...

By the way, I totally agree with the Google Images "improvement". It sucks!

Terence Towles Canote said...

Kate, you brought up something I had not thought of. It could make it easier for spambots to follow people, not something I think most of us want!

Raquel, I can see how Whom to Follow (I'll go ahead and use correct grammar even if Twitter didn't) could be useful to some people. My major objection is that they gave us no way to hide it. Everything else on the sidebar can be hidden, but not Whom to Know!

At any rate, I figured out how to get rid of Whom To Follow. Go to Find People, then click on the Suggestions for You tab, then hide very single suggestion there. After one does that, Whom to Follow disappears from the sidebar!