Thoughts on Twitter Lists (and Thoughts and More Thoughts)

Collected topical posts from Wired To Share

Semantics: Why Twitter Lists Rock
Lots has been said about Twitter Lists – Robert Scoble is doing some great analysis, as are govies like Sarah Bourne of Mass.Gov. I have two big first impressions:
Lists are a fabulous discovery tool, a data rich and hand-picked crowd tagged with a descriptor by, most likely, one of your valued contacts. Lists from your real contacts, instead of being just another popularity measure, are going to open up their networks in a simple format that cuts right through spam and allows discovery whenever YOU feel like exploring. This benefit of lists was anticipated, and hopefully it will quiet down some of the Follow Friday noise of dataless name-dropping (though now folks can urge following of their lists!). One thing I’m looking forward to is a quick tool to follow individual handles off lists in your regular timeline, in bulk.
The second thing I saw while playing around last night is very important, and it also reduces spam and increases discovery. Lists provide a crowdsourced tagging system for each handle, along with builder-defined common communities. They teach others about you, and you about how you’re perceived. It’s the crowdsourcing of bios, and finally I can make sense of those who don’t fill theirs out. 🙂
What are you discovering about Lists?

No Substitute for Community
The A-list talk is about status. That’s cool.
Personally, I like lists as a way to discover new recommendations in communities of interest, and also as a way to quickly tune into those communities. Creating and following locality-based lists also holds much possibilty. Then there is the great value of seeing how other community members see you, as based on how they tag you in their lists. But lists are never going to replace the utlity of the two-way connection on Twitter. Dipping into streams and commenting and going back and forth with replies and DMs forms real relationships that Lists are going to have little to do with. If all you do with Twitter is broadcast, Lists may be a bit more important (but only if they get followed, which most of them so far are not).
I don’t think Lists shake up the core of the human relationships and far-flung community engendered by Twitter.

Thinking Like a Spammer
Social media consultant Ari Herzog commented on an earlier post that he’s using Lists to organize people he’s not following. Me, too.
1) Lists allow you to dip in and out of important communities, either as a lurker – just checking out what’s up, or to carve your reach further into a community you want to engage with.
The implication is that Lists are great for explorers and marketers. And for spammers.
2) Imagine you’ve got a product for dentists. Well, according to Listorious, there’s already a handy list for you to start peppering them with @ reply messages. Get ready for it.

Lists, Ratios and Follower Counts: Network vs. Broadcast?
Even at this stage in the game, you could probably get five experts in a room and have each describe Twitter differently. Kind of like The Elephant and the Blind Men fable. But with the new lists feature, it’s growing easier to see why and how people people are using this tool.
Two of the main reasons people use Twitter are to broadcast and to network. (Why people follow is similar, either to receive the broadcast, or to network – and probably a combination of both.)
I got to thinking today about the new Lists feature and what the ratio of followers to Lists says about a handle on Twitter.
I think the ratio has a lot to do with value, and a lot to do with networking vs. broadcasting. Some folks are definitely on Twitter not to aggressively use Twitter, but simply because they are famous and so is Twitter. Others have a tight connection to their followers, because they are really tuned into the tone and culture of the medium.
I also think that these ratios are going to expose again the ridiculousness of the suggested users that Twitter feeds to new members. With a high percentage of Twitter newbies not sticking around, the high follower counts for suggested users are grossly inflated in terms of their intrinsic value to the community at large.
Enough narrative, on to some numbers:
Erin Kotecki Vest (QueenofSpain) 1/39
Aaron Brazell (Technosailor) 1/26
John P Kavanagh (Jonnerz) 1/696
Robert Scoble (Scobleizer) 1/30
Chris Brogan 1/39
Govwiki 1/32
Jack Dorsey 1/984
Mark Drapeau (Cheeky_Geeky) 1/37
Erica Holt 1/44
Gary Vaynerchuk (Garyvee) 1/421
Scott Horvath 1/24
Ari Herzog 1/6!
If you’re familiar with many of these names, you may join me in noticing that the ratios seem not to scale. It simply may be impossible to keep a tight network going after 100k followers. Also, Lists are very new so may not have settled out yet as a metric. That said, they also haven’t yet been gamed like follow counts (down with the SUL!). A few more quick observations: Dumping trash followers tightens your network. The founder of Twitter’s ratio looks like that of an MLMer. Even a robot can build a tight network on Twitter.
What are you seeing?

Why and How: Local Lists
If you don’t live in a metro area, social media community building can be daunting. Last year, I organized a charity tweetup in my medium-sized town and thought that at least several Twitter contacts were confirmed. It turned out as a small crowd of me and my best pal from up the street. Now, there are many other posts to be written about successful tweetups, and perhaps I’m not the one to write them.
But I do have one action-oriented tool I wish had been there last year: location-based Twitter Lists.
In fact, I also wish I’d had this tool, or had created something like it, when I recently ran for U.S. Congress in a far-flung district of medium-sized towns. See, I believe that community building among social media users in a geographic area has great potential for businesses, activists and government. Twitter Lists are far better than Facebook’s location-based groups for this, because, unlike Facebook groups and friend lists, they are easy to share and manage and require no immediate buy in from the folks you’re listing.
I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to effectively use local Lists, and I hope you’ll share yours as well.
So, on to building them.
Pretty soon, there will be tools to automate this (and as soon as you build one, please let me know), however, getting ahead of the curve is what helps set you apart in the social media world. Be the first to build a valuable list and folks will notice. If you’re already in a big metro area, this is a no-brainer. The guidance here is for folks in the Twitter wastlelands. First, decide what towns you want to have in your list. Create a placeholder Twitter account for each one. Also create a List for each. Use the Google-powered LocaFollow.com – which I expect to make this much easier very soon – to search out and bulk follow users in each town from its own Twitter account. Then add them to your town-specific list. Repeat for each of your towns, then create a new list for the region and add all your town-listed folks to this one. Ta-da, you’ve got micro- and macro-targeted lists to build community within. And hopefully your first tweetup or Congressional race goes better than mine!

~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and host of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Honestly, I haven’t been paying attention to lists…until now. Thanks for providing an overview of the implications, Adriel…and giving me the impetus to learn more!


Fascinating stuff. Its definitely an ego somewhat to be on lists but I can see how they will be useful. Not sure how they will be incorporated into 3rd parties like Seesmic and Tweetdeck. That to me is the special sauce