Tipping Pitches: Technology: Twitter Lists and the Possibilities


Friday, October 30, 2009

Technology: Twitter Lists and the Possibilities

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Like many (or most) Twitter users, I was left in the dark when the initial Beta push of Lists was made. Until you actually have access, it's tough to firmly grasp the impact (see latest Facebook road map announcement).  Or maybe I'm just not smart enough to grasp it.

Luckily for me, I was granted access to lists yesterday. Proudly, I announced it to the world. Moments later, I no longer had lists.

Son of a...

Twitter does tell its users to be quiet about your new powers. Was I being punished for breaking the Twitter Lists Secret?

About 30 minutes later, I had lists again. Was quiet about it this time. Learned my lesson.

I heard a lot of horror stories about the difficulty of creating lists. If you only use the search (which, according to the interface, seems to be the case), it would royally suck.

But once you create the list, all you need to do is go to your "following" page and select the proper list from a toggle next to each user's name. Really not that bad. But if you are following a lot of people, sure. It will still royally suck.

The Ego Factor

I won't lie. It's pretty damn cool when I go to Twitter.com and discover that someone's created a list that includes me. Makes me feel kinda special. Like I'm not talking to myself after all (feels that way most of the time).

Of course, these are the lists I'm on:

People You Should SPAM
Don't Follow These Idiots
Most Likely to Want to Follow Profiles with the name "Britney" or Something Similar in It
Poop Heads

So, not all bad, I guess. I am kind of a "poop head."

[It should be noted here that if you are put on a list that you find offensive ("Yankees Fans"), all you need to do is block the person who created the list. Well, that's the passive aggressive thing to do. Or you could just ask them to remove you. Then block them.]

So those aren't really the lists I'm in, but I grace five lists so far. I know. Not that many. But I'm proud of those five.

Of course, I put myself in one of those lists. Is that legal? Does it break some sort of lame Twitter etiquette that I should know about? I know it seems somewhat desperate and all, but seriously. If I go to the trouble of creating the "Most Powerful People on Twitter" list, I need to be on it. I deserve that much.

But this goes back to the "Ego Factor." It feels real good to be on lists that someone else created (or I created). It's also quickly becoming the new way to judge how interesting someone is, and whether they are "follow worthy."

Number of followers has always been somewhat deceiving. When I started using Twitter, I was quite flattered when someone with 50,000 followers would follow me. I followed back. I must be one interesting dude.

Then I realized that these people also often follow 50,000 users. They do it for reciprocation. They follow in hopes that you'll follow back.  I was suckered.

That's why the "Twitter ratio" has become so important. If you follow more people than follow you, you're probably not all that interesting. I can say this since I unfollowed a bunch of people last week to give me an acceptable ratio.

So now if you're on 20,000 lists, we'll know that people think you're pretty interesting. Of course, you can also put yourself on those lists (as I did), but you're limited to 20 lists. So unless you create 1,000 accounts to put yourself on 20,000 lists (wouldn't put it past anyone), it's tough to manipulate.

Ease of Use
I refuse to follow more than 150 people. As soon as the number goes over that threshold, I go through my "following" and start unfollowing people. I'm kind of a jerk like that.

It may inevitably slow my growth of followers.  I don't care that much about number of followers. I care, don't get me wrong. But I'm not going to randomly follow people to get those followers.

And I'm not going to negatively impact my stream (that sounds terrible -- we need a new word for this) to get there.

Now, technically, you can follow 1,000,000 people but focus only on the people you want to hear from. 

I guess this is good and bad.  It's good as a nice organizational tool.  It's bad since you can now follow a large group of people with no intention of reading their stuff.  You can bet that someone -- Twitter or a third party -- will provide the ability to make a list your default view.

In other words, you could follow 50,000 people but only pay attention to 100 of them.  Once again, lessens the value of "number of followers" since following inflates your numbers.

Actually, there are many applications for this. I've created lists for "Sports People" and "Funny People." In a bad mood? Focus only on the funny people.

But I could further cut that "Sports People" list down to "Baseball People." And that would have been especially cool last night while watching Game 2 of the World Series.

I don't care about the nerdy, techy stuff while I'm watching the World Series. I want to talk and hear about baseball. About the game.

Getting Noticed
This is huge for people starting fresh on Twitter. It's always about who you know in the business world (knowing how to do stuff helps, too), and having an influential person put you on a list would be key.

Getting started on Twitter sucks, I won't lie. You talk to yourself a lot. Eventually, you even talk to spammers to convince yourself that you have an audience (or is that just me?). If you can quickly get on an influential list, you don't have to go through these growing pains.

Sites are already emerging that aggregate these lists.  I put my "Sports People" list on Listorious.com yesterday.  I also used that site to follow the Onion Editorial Staff.

So this is huge for everyone -- brands and individuals. One influential list and you're likely to see a sudden spike in your audience. Game changer.

Brand Value
I work for American Cancer Society Great West Division, and I immediately see some applications of lists for our use. I can create a list of all ACS Twitter accounts (national, state, division -- there are a lot). This would make it very easy for a volunteer to quickly follow what's going on in our world.

Additionally, lists can help brands in a growing competitor community. Using ACS as an example, someone affected by cancer may create a list of all of the non-profit cancer research organizations. Or simply a list of those who are helpful to individuals affected by cancer. Or a list of cancer survivors.

The last, I think, could be where this thing is headed. Lists of people with similar interests. If I'm a cancer survivor, I may want to join a Twitter community of other cancer survivors for support and discussion. Same with sports fans. Or fans of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lists are to Twitter what the new Live Feed is to Facebook. Different things, but I think both tools will significantly improve their site's community. New Twitter users are more likely to hang around. Less active users are more likely to become more engaged.

It's good stuff.

One Complaint
This List thing could be big. Real big. But I don't like how if you follow a new list you don't follow the people on that list.

Ok, this is purely from a selfish standpoint. If someone follows a list that I'm on, I want it to automatically improve my "Followers" count. It doesn't. They aren't really following me. If they click on the list, they can read what I have to say and then follow me. But it's not a one-step process.

So, for my ego, I'd appreciate this one change. Or at least the option to easily follow everyone in a list. Or a new statistic on your profile indicating number of people who follow you through lists.

Or maybe I'm getting too wrapped up in silly stats.

I mean, I see why it may be a bad idea to automatically follow users on lists. People are creating lists with 500 users (or more) in them. Personally, I think that's kinda lame. But you wouldn't want to automatically follow all 500 of those people.

Why? It would kill your Twitter ratio!


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