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Friday, September 13, 2013

Twitter’s Magic Recs Experiment Personalizes What You Follow

A few months ago, a mysterious account called “Magic Recs” appeared on Twitter.

Magic Recs promises to deliver “instant, personalized recommendations for users and content via direct message.” Its premise is simple: Twitter users that follow it receive occasional direct messages that highlight new accounts that people in your Twitter network have recently started following.

For example, Magic Recs recently sent a message alerting me that several of my friends on Twitter were now following Cabinet, the White House’s Twitter account for its Office of Cabinet Affairs. A few days before that, it let me know that a handful of people had followed Upworthy Spoiler, a parody account of the news aggregation Web site, Upworthy.

It also often flags messages posted to Twitter that are attracting the attention of people in your network. It is a charmingly low-tech feeling discovery tool that singles out tweets and Twitter accounts that are rising in popularity for one reason or another.

It is an official Twitter experiment, but not much more is known than that. Several executives at the company including Dick Costolo, the chief executive of the company, have confirmed and referenced the account through tweets of their own on Twitter. Carolyn Penner, a spokeswoman for Twitter, declined to comment on the record about the account.

It’s possible the account is testing its recommendation algorithms or whether or not people mind being targeted via direct message â€" something that could have broader implications down the line for marketing, perhaps.

In a way, it offers a glimpse of Twitter’s biggest strength, one that it will certainly be playing up to investors during its forthcoming I.P.O. â€" the service’s ability to track and analyze the pulse of the Internet, tracking and identifying what people are excited about or fussing over at any given moment. But so far, for most of its users, its a refreshing new way to discover interesting new Twitter accounts and tweets on the site, beyond its current features.

Twitter’s core service, which started out as a way to post short bursts of text, is slowly but surely evolving into a media-rich and never-ending stream of information and entertainment that includes short videos, photographs and advertisements. It is impressive and it is powerful but it is also overwhelming and tiresome.

As much as Twitter’s newer versions reveal a complex timeline of the thoughts, insights, jokes and news events occupying through attention of the Web at any given moment, the sheer volume of content has made it hard to single out items of interest.

Twitter has tried to surface new ideas on the site, using trending topic, hashtags and people suggestions to organize its content, as well as a feature called “Discover” that tries to give you an overview of current events on Twitter, based on what is trending around the world and in your network.

The company bought TweetDeck, a popular Twitter client, which lets people easily keep track of certain accounts and topics on the site. But none are enough to help manage the endless stream of content that Twitter users, especially their most loyal ones, are expected to manage at any given moment.

The Magic Recs account is still relatively small â€" roughly 11,000 people are following it â€" giving little indication of whether or not its something Twitter users like or want to use. But for now, Magic Recs is a clever twist on a solution to one of Twitter’s content dilemmas and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, the company does with it next.