Twitter lists: good idea, cumbersome to use, useless in the real world


The Twittervese has been all, well, atwitter, with news about Twitter’s new Lists feature. As someone who manages an ever-growing Twitter account with thousands of followers, I was pretty excited when I first heard about this. Lists promised to help me organize my followers — much like I already do on Tweetdeck Groups — but now publicly so I can share the people I love to follow with the world. But lets be honest. It’s less about Listing people you follow. The real bragging rights come from being Listed on other’s lists, thus presumably upping your company’s percieved value on Twitter.

Twitter’s Lists are kind of a more advanced, permanant, and more lastingly socially sharable version of #followfriday. For those of you who don’t know, #followfriday is a hashtag that people use to recommend followers to others on, of course, Friday. But as someone who thinks the worst place to use Twitter is on I find the creation of lists there to be something only one with limitless time could persue. Who has limitless time to create lists on Twitter? Well the most likely group would probably be the throngs of “social media experts” who clutter up their streams with tips they schedule to Tweet out throughout the day. In my own little lab experiment, it took approximately 5-6 seconds to add each user to a List. That translates into something very impractical and ultimately a poor measurement of your reach and influence.

Regular users, meaning your real customers and potential customers, are highly unlikely to create Lists. The average Twitter user may want to read your Tweets, click on your links and be influenced by your brand but probably doesn’t have time to categorize you into a List. Would they even know they can create Lists? Could they even do it from the application or mobile device they use to Tweet? It comes down to this: as far as the average Twitter is concerned, you’re either followed or not followed, you’re either on or off. It would be akin to requiring a magazine reader to clip out your ad and pin it to a wall to prove they really like you. That’s just silly.

Chances are TweetDeck and other applications will add the ability to allow users to create and manage Lists. That may make it easier for power Twitter users like myself, but not for the average joe. Alas, it was a good idea. In theory.


  1. October 30, 2009

    To stay in good standing with the FTC, let me clear the air that I am a social media expert. I have a Facebook account, use Tweetdeck, #hashtageverything. The criteria for being a social media expert has been exhausted.

    Without even taking a swing at the “what’s the *real* value of Twitter” topic, Twitter is still useless to the real world, so of course lists are, too. Let’s keep in mind, what 10% of the US has a Twitter account (and remember, 10% of Twitter users create 90% of the content)?

    But, for people who aren’t social media experts, but use Twitter for, well, anything, I’d argue that lists do have value. Why? You said it best:

    “Who has limitless time to create lists on Twitter?”

    If someone took the time to create a list, which is a manual one by one process, you can rest assured those people are on that list for a reason — assuming you’re only checking the lists of people you trust and respect.

    Maybe I’m new to Chicago (I am), and want to find other users with shared interests. If I connect to one person that I value, and they’ve created a list, or are on a list, I can tap into other likeminded folks from Chicago. Same for UX, IX, development, and on and on.

    Maybe there’s less value from a marketing application, but strategery was never my strong suit. Then again, if I was @Zappos, I’d probably create a list for my CSRs.

    Or if I was @the_nerdery, create a list of Sierra Bravo/Nerdery Interactive employees.


  2. October 30, 2009

    Thanks for commenting, Matt!

    I guess (and I know I’m in the minority) that Twitter really does have value in the real world. News stories are broken on Twitter, long before MSM picks them up. Twitter’s realtime search can predict trends in everything from what’s hot in pop culture to possibly even predicting outbreaks of H1N1 in a specific area.

    I think you’re absolutely correct that if someone took the time to create a List then it likely has value. For hardcore Twitter users like us I think Lists can be a great resource. My main issue was how they’re impractical for most regular users, the consumer.

    Thanks for sharing that List. I’ll be sure to check it out.

  3. October 30, 2009

    Uh oh, did we just derail into the Twitter having real value in the real world debate? I’d agree that it does, sort of, but I think we (in the interactive world) tend to forget its reach. You’re right, it’s a great service to break news, find trends, and particularly facilitate a new tool for brand monitoring (and customer service, public relations). Without disagreeing too much, I think Twitter lists (when the list creator is an authority) provides people on Twitter a great new way to discover other users. Ultimately, you are right, I don’t think it’s useful to the real world…yet.

    Thanks for the post!