Twitter Lists: what I've learned

A bit over a week ago, I logged on to the Twitter website and was astonished by an invitation to start using their new "Lists" feature. I have long wished for tagging in Twitter so I could add some keywords to help me remember why I followed someone. Lists seemed like a fine solution, so I was excited to get started.

What are Lists?

When you get Lists, you'll see a new button when you go to someone's page, in the box under their name. When you click on it, a box pops up with a link to make a new list; later you'll see the lists you've created with checkboxes. Selecting a checkbox adds that person to the list.
Lists you've created are displayed on the right hand side. When you click on one, it shows the most recent tweets of everyone on that list. (This might be familiar to you if you have used a Twitter client like TweetDeck or Seesmic.) When you visit someone's Twitter page, you'll see any lists they've created. You will also see that there's a new metric next to "following" and "followers", "listed", that shows how many lists they are on. Clicking on it will show you what those lists are.
There are two kinds of lists: public and private. If you designate a list "private", no one else can see it but you. People who are on that list do not know about it, either.
And one more thing: you can add people to lists even if you don't follow them yourself.

List Strategy

Like Twitter itself, you can use lists any way you like. What I wanted to do was to make sure everybody I follow is on at least one list, which would serve as a reminder of why I followed them. My public lists are on particular topics, such as "accessibility" and "education". I also have two private lists that are geographic: "local", meaning pretty close to where I live and work, and another one for New England. I could have made them public, too, but thought they would not be terribly useful for anyone else, and they might be mistaken for topics.
But frankly, my motivation and is totally personal. I've set my lists up so they would have value for me. They might be useful for other people, which would be awesome, but that's not what I was thinking about when I created the lists and decide who to put on them. Everybody on my lists is someone I am following, and everyone I follow is on a list or will be soon.
Other people are creating authoritative lists. I've seen one listing every hospital on Twitter, for instance. They may have a personal reason for doing that, but it seems more likely that it's being done as a public service.

Learned along the way

  • You can only have 20 lists in all. Figure out beforehand what lists you want to have.
  • For my first list, I went through my "following" list and picked out the people that belonged on it. I missed a lot that way. So I stopped and...
  • I decided on my strategy and created my lists, and now am going through my "following" list and putting each person on one or more lists. This is very time-consuming, but more accurate.
  • It's a great opportunity to clean up, such as unfollowing abandoned accounts. If you've been thinking about cleaning up, wait until you have lists so you can do it at the same time.
  • It might be polite to keep a list private while you're putting it together, and make it public when it's pretty much done. Otherwise, people might be shocked to find the list suddenly including hundresd of people, for instance.
  • The widget for adding people is very balky. Sometimes it works right away. Most of the time, though, it pauses for a while... and then unchecks the box. It commonly takes four or five tries to get your choices to stick. I hope they get that fixed; it's really annoying

Crystal ball

  • Government accounts should probably focus on creating authoritative lists. The @massgov account, for instance, might create lists of Massachusetts state agencies and officials on Twitter. This would serve as authentication for those accounts.
    Expect a mad scramble in third-party Twitter tools to be able to handle basic Lists functionality.
  • Expect brand new tools to do super nifty things. For instance, I'd love a tool that can search for lists, compare who's on them, and generate a "super list" of all the people in common on all of them - authoritative lists by crowdsourcing!
  • Lists will be immensely helpful for new users. You can follow other people's lists, so you can start getting a valuable stream right away. Seeing a well-curated stream is what most people need to figure Twitter out. Also, following a list will answer a common question, "How do I find people to follow?"
  • You will be able to see clearly what someone is using Twitter for. If they bother to make a list for something, then they obviously care about it.
  • Those tools that calcualte how popular, how social, etc., you are will have to make some big changes. The new metric will be how many lists you're on.
  • If you can add people to a list without following them, and if you can subscibe to a list, then why follow people? As Twitter users answer this question, the social dynamic of Twitter is going to radically change.