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Social Media

Twitter Lists

In the last week, Twitter rolled out their newest feature on their websites called Twitter lists.  Lists allow you to aggregate the people you follow on Twitter into smaller, more manageable groups that users can view the short messages (tweets) that people on those lists post.  What started as a good idea is being seen fairly universally as a poor implementation.

Twitter prides themselves on creating features based on the usage of the site by the users.  People on the site began looking for a way to communicate with each other, so they began addressing each other with an @ before the user name.  When people like something on Twitter, they copy, paste and credit the user in a “retweet.” Both of these user generated elements were co-opted by Twitter and given their own spin on them Twitter.

Many third party Twitter clients allow you to group users into more manageable lists that you can use to track smaller assortments of people.  Many of these clients, like Tweetdeck (my client of choice), show you these smaller aggregations of users in a more manageable view, but they allow you to view them side by side with your regular tweet stream.  The advantage of this view is the ability to see what that group of individuals are saying and their signal will not get lost amongst the noise.  With Twitter’s implementation, they are on separate webpages and ultimately relies on forced repetition to view the list.  With the ability to create multiple lists, the echo of the tweets becomes more prevalent and the usefulness of the tweets diminishes.

Adding to a user to these lists has also been made an arduous task.  You must go to each individual’s Twitter page, click on a Lists drop down and select the lists to add them to.  Since there are lists with hundreds of people, the user had to click to each individual one of the people they follow and add them to the lists he or she has created.  This is a design fail because it is inconvenient for the user and creates thousands of needless pageviews on the website, when a simple search function could easily have simplified this process and wasted less bandwidth.

The other major glaring problem with this new system is the ability to know how many and what lists you are on.  Many people already view Twitter as a popularity contest, where they attempt to amass as many followers as possible.  Now they want to continue that way of thinking and be on as many lists as possible.  While it is nice that you can subscribe to other people’s lists, it pales in comparison to the problem with everyone comparing themselves with another meaningless metric.

While talking with Roger Wu about lists this week, he asked me if it was possible to remove yourself from someone else’s list.  After exploring the site options, we found that you cannot, which leads to another problem.  If someone adds you to a derogatory list, you are stuck on it.  If someone were to put you on a list titled “douchebag,” not only would that be insulting, there is no telling how many people will see it and judge based on it, and no one knows how the lists will work with search engines or how they will be indexed yet (regardless of anyone trying to take the word back).

Lists were a good idea when they were able to be used in conjunction with the main stream – and other lists – simultaneously, but this implementation falls flat.  Perhaps when APIs and third party clients can make use of lists, they will be more effective, but for now they are just a shoddy implementation of an idea created by their users that is not fully understood by its new implementers.

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  • Rube

    Good info as always. However there is some way to keep people from adding you to lists. Being fairly new to the Twitter platform, I have no idea how it is done, but I tried adding Mythbuster @grantimahara to a list and he won’t show up. In fact, he is on no lists.

    I am curious if he is using a self written script, or if there is an option we are not aware of made available to Verified accounts.

    Again, thanks for the good info JustJon.

  • Great post! I’m pretty sure the only way to get off someone’s list is to block them from following you… which is pretty extreme.

    I also agree that adding people to lists is a very arduous, poorly designed task. I realized this when I collected the names in a TXT file and then found out I couldn’t add by handle — only by visiting their page. Hopefully the integration of lists into Twitter apps will improve the functionality. Twibes has done a slight improvement by allowing you to create lists through their site.

    I’m not a fan of displaying # of lists so prominently on a user’s main page. I agree – it becomes a meaningless metric. However, I imagine in the future users and apps will determine the real meaning/importance of lists over whatever Twitter had in mind…

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  • You don’t necessarily have to go to each user’s page to add them to a list. If you go to the “Who You Follow” page, there is a drop down list thingy for each user. It still sucks because you have to go through pages and pages of users and pick for each person.

    Also, I don’t know if you realized that on your own profile page, beside following and followers, it says “XYZ Listed” and you can look at what lists you’re on.

    It’s still not great for the reasons you mentioned. I was expecting more from Twitter in terms of ease of use.

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