November 01, 2009

First thoughts on Twitter Lists

I’ve spent a few days now playing with the new Twitter lists and right now I’m not really sure what to make of them. At first sight the mechanism is straightforward – organise the people you follow into lists and then you can be more selective about whose tweets you read. Put the people really want to follow in a “Friends” list and you can make sure their tweets don’t get lost amongst all the others. This is a step forward for those occasions when you need to use Twitter via the web site but I rarely do that – TweetDeck’s Groups provides this functionality.

But that’s not all that the lists functionality does. You can create lists of people you don’t follow, and follow them via the list rather than your regular timeline. I’m not sure I see the point of that. Why not just follow them and use lists to control what you see when? If you consider that your “timeline” – the tweets from the people you follow – is really just another list now, the “default” list you see on your Twitter homepage, then either follow everyone or follow no one. And certainly this feature makes follower counts meaningless. Some would argue they have been all along, of course…!

You can also build lists for other people to follow. Any lists you build are public by default. But that creates a problem. If I classify my followees for my own purposes I’d end up with different lists from if I classify them for other people’s benefit. And maintaining two sets of lists seems like a lot of hard work.

Finally you can follow other people’s lists. That seemed quite attractive at first, until I realised that those lists were then out of my control and I could end up following people I don’t want to, or not following people I did want to, because control of the list membership is in somebody else’s hands. Some lists might even be deleted and I’d lose contact with everyone on them. Plus, for any given category of interest there are already lots of lists of people. They all overlap but most have their own unique members. Do I follow one list, or several? That’s just a mess. What I’m going to end up doing is looking through the members of these lists and following the people individually. I can’t see myself following many lists built by others.

Aside from all of this, there’s the impact of lists on the people included in them. How would you feel if you found yourself on somebody’s “Annoying Tweeters” list. Or if you didn’t find yourself on somebody’s “Friends” list. Or if all the lists your were on were about X and you thought of yourself as more of a Y person? Think carefully when constructing those public lists, people.

So, where does that leave me with Twitter lists? I think I’m going to end up with a single, private “Friends” list for those times when I need to use Twitter via the web interface, not bother creating any others, and probably only follow one or two lists built by others, those I consider “definitive” somehow. This really isn’t going to make a big impact on my Twitter usage.

Now I’ve only had access to lists for a few days so I could easily have got it all wrong. I know there’s a new version of TweetDeck coming along that integrates with lists. It is early days for the feature, and it could easily change as it matures. We’ll see. What do you think?

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Craig Thornton

    I think I’m at the very same point with Twitter Lists. I get them but I’m not sure they are of complete use to me at this point in time. Having said that I’ve had very little time to ‘play’ with them yet and maybe the real benefit will reveal itself in due course.

    I am a big fan of being organised and think that maybe that’s the answer, I can effectively organise lists by subject matter, thus providing a clear timeline for just that subject. I also agree that with the feature only being available via the web interface right now, maybe that’s what is limiting how we see it’s potential. As soon as TweetDeck releases it’s next version (or Seesmic or hopefully some iPhone clients) we will all likely play more with lists and hopefully define some good use cases.


    01 Nov 2009, 12:33

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