Thoughts on Twitter #8: You’re going to love Twitter Lists, unless you don’t

[Notes: You can view all my “Thoughts on Twitter” posts displayed chronologically here: http://www.RexBlog.com/thoughts-on-twitter.]

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If you read this blog closely, you know I’ve been whining for a “lists” or “groups” feature on Twitter since, well, about the time I started using it. (About 90% of the complaints I hear from people who use Facebook could be solved if they understood and used the FaceBook “friends list” feature.)

For those of us who use third-party services and software to manage our Twitter following and tweeting, solutions to organizing people and topics one follows were solved a long time ago. Likewise, it’s been obvious for a long, long time, that a person who experiences Twitter just via the Twitter.com website is completely lost because of the lack of such a feature.

They are so lost that the Twitter powers-that-be started rolling their own lists of suggested Twitter users for new Twitter users to follow. Unfortunately, those “suggested users” were the entertainers, media types, tech-personalities or random friends of the person who controlled the list, that it resulted in a sky-rocketing of those individuals’ followers. The infamous “Suggested User List” (SUL), in my opinion, set back the comprehension of what Twitter is as it encouraged new users to believe it’s something you sign up for when you want to get blasts of messages from famous people you’ve never heard of. And so, they re-confirmed their perception that Twitter is a joke.

Recently (as I explained in Thoughts on Twitter #6), I decided that the list of people I was following on my @r Twitter account was creating so much noise, the tweet-stream had become meaningless. Therefore, I re-booted the list — wiped it completely away and started all over. In doing so, I lost hundreds of followers who, obviously, have services set up that unsubscribe from anyone who does the same to them. As I explained in that post, my idea was to be a better “curator” of the list of people I follow, so it became more targeted on friends, folks I respect and talk with professionally, some of my passions and Twitter users who live in my hometown of Nashville.

The experience of thinking about “following” as curation made it clear to me that if a Twitter user was able to make “lists” have a public view, such list-building would be viewed as a valuable service — and, in a way that is understandable to longtime students of online reputation, another data-point that could be used by those who are always trying to quantify “authority.” (If you stick with me, you may discover why there seems to be a high correlation between tech-geeks and baseball fanatics.)

Here’s an example of “following” and authority and curation that I’ve experienced personally.

Because I’m the “juggler-in-chief” of the wiki-model resource SmallBusiness.com, I registered the “early-bird-catches-the-worm” Twitter account, @smallbusiness. While it currently has about 5,000 followers — a lot less than many small business oriented Twitter accounts — Digg.com’s WeFollow.com‘s algorithm ranks my @smallbusiness account as #2 in authority in the #smallbusiness category, again, despite being #63 in followers.

As, frankly, I have too little interest to spend much time trying to understand how WeFollow actually measures “authority” (another term for “reputation” or “influence”), I’m assuming it’s related to the number of “high authority” users who follow someone else with perhaps some weight given to the “authority” rank of individuals who re-tweet something posted by a particular user.

As the “content” of the tweets I post on @smallbusiness are limited to news stories and other items I think are ofinterest to small business owners and managers (unlike the goofy banter on my personal user account @r), I get lots of RTs because it’s obvious that the links I post are highly curated and timely: they are real news I look for carefully.

What WeFollow is doing with an algorithm, Twitter Lists is going to do with the power of the crowd. Lists will provide an incredible service to the casual Twitter user — and will help the service evolve away from its perception of fluffiness — a perception the Twitter SUL helped to reinforce.

It will also turn the ridiculous notion that how many followers you have on Twitter is the most revealing marker of “authority.” Listen — you can buy Twitters followers. And, no doubt, you’ll be able to buy getting on “lists.” But the challenge and cost of doing that will become more geometric in complexity and expense. And, the likelihood of those with “real” authority following your spam list is zilch.

Bottomline: Lists will make it a lot easier for unconvinced users of Twitter to understand its utility. And second, Lists will reward those who actually spend time and effort providing helpful, witty or engaging content in the form of the “tweets” they post OR the effort they put into curating unique and special lists.

Sidenote: I am working through the weekend on a major project, so I haven’t gotten around to building many lists on my @r Twitter account. However, I’m going to be aggressively creating lists using the @smallbusiness/lists (where I have an amazing URL to build such lists) and I’ve already started a few.

Bonus link: Like so much I have learned regarding the nature of content and connectedness over the past ten years, Dave Winer has been my maven on the topic of Lists, as well. The other day, when I first received the feature, I was thinking of him when I decided that Twitter Lists won’t be a “perfect” feature until they are exportable via OPML and can be followed via RSS. I’m sure Twitter will enable those or there are 3rd party hacks of the API going on right now.

Other bonus links:
Dave Troy – “Why Twitter Lists Change Everything”
Todd Zeigler – “Using Twitter Lists to Judge Influence