Tipping Pitches: Technology: Twitter Lists Get Second Look


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Technology: Twitter Lists Get Second Look

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I, along with seemingly everyone else in the Twitter world, was pumped when the microblogging site released their Lists feature last week.

You always have to be a bit careful about initial sentiment, whether good or bad. Once the luster wears off, what's left? And even if the initial reports are negative, value occasionally emerges.

A lot of hype about Twitter lists when they were released, and I jumped on the bandwagon.

However, something has happened the past few days. High profile Twitter users like @ChrisBrogan are making their lists "private" or refusing to make any lists at all.

I didn't get it at first, but now it's starting to make sense. Twitter is all about relationships. Engaging, stroking egos, reciprocity. Twitter lists presents a road block to this love fest.

You didn't add me to your "Most Powerful Tech Geeks on Twitter List." Why? Don't you like me? You acted like you liked me. You retweet my stuff. Were you just retweeting my stuff so I'd retweet yours?

I added you to a list, so can you add me to yours?

Hurt feelings. Endangering relationships. Bad business.  Also lessens the value of these lists when people are being added for the wrong reasons.

Additionally, my concern about the impact of lists to your number of followers appears to have been warranted. When you follow a list, individuals on that list do not gain followers.

Users who follow a list can decide to follow individuals, but what is the motivation? They now have the list. They can follow everything the person says. They may be motivated to follow in order to generate a relationship with the individual, but I personally don't want a personal relationship with many people on my lists.

But I like to read their stuff. So I follow the list and click on it when I feel like it.

I'm on the Nonprofit Technology list, thanks to @rjleaman. It is the #11 list, according to Listorious. Currently more than 500 followers. Yet, there hasn't been a noticeable jump in my followers.

But that doesn't mean that Lists aren't making a difference.

1) Lists change how we view Followers count. Previously, number of followers was everything -- or close to everything. Granted, "productive followers" were most important, but it's a number that's difficult to measure. So people compared follower counts like they compare their biggest catch.

My example above, though, shows that we can no longer focus so much on number of followers. I still have fewer than 200 followers, but there are likely dozens of (or at least two or three) people who are following me through the Nonprofit Technology list, and not personally following me.

There's still value there, even if they aren't following me. Much more value than hoping they read something I tweet to the public feed, or that they eventually see it through a retweet.

2) Number of times "Listed" a major measure of clout. This holds true, as I had expected. If you're followed by 5,000 people and on 10 lists, you're probably a spammer. If you're followed by 500 people and on 50 lists, you're likely pretty darned interesting.

One problem, however, is that private lists do not show up in your "Listed" count. Why not? For this to be a true measure of clout, the number needs to be made public.

The quality of those lists will also be important. Even though private lists do not apply to the final count, number of followers still takes a back seat to "Listed."

3) Lists are an organizational tool. I think we looked too far into the power of lists. While they do measure clout, they aren't quite as important as I originally thought (mainly due to people making so many lists private).

But they are great for organizing. Particularly for people who follow a lot of people. I fully expect Twitter and/or a third party vendor to allow you to make a single list your default view.

This, of course, significantly affects the power of having followers. They are following you... but are they really following you?

In Conclusion
Take a deep breath. Maybe not the game changer we initially thought. Still a nice organizational tool. Still a measure of clout. But in a community driven by relationships and reciprocity, public lists will be avoided by some -- and those "some" will be many of the most influential people on Twitter.

That said, I hope that Twitter considers allowing private lists to apply to a person's Listed count. Indicate in the list of lists you're on (sheesh, lots of lists) that there are X Private Lists, but you can't view them.

Not so much for my ego (people, I'm on six lists), but to better gauge the truly interesting people in the Twitter community.


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