In a widely anticipated move Twitter has introduced lists today to help manage the people you follow.
New! Lists. A great way to organize the people you follow and discover new and interesting accounts. (BETA)
Lists are timelines you build yourself, consisting of friends, family, co-workers, sports teams, you name it. You’re part of a small group receiving this feature, so don’t tweet about it yet!
Just this morning I was playing with Google Wave and saw the video where they include the Twitter stream via the API and thought again that Twitter would have to do something soon to combat the drift away from Twitter itself to retaining people on their site.
Recently I’ve used Twitter less and less, just posting one or two items a day, but when I was using it more heavily I found myself using a variety of external tools to interact with Twitter. In Firefox I use Echofon (previously TwitterFox) which helps me view the streams of various accounts. As a desktop application I’ve used TweetDeck.
TweetDeck in particular lets me create lists and custom searches. Whilst Twitter has a very useful search feature having all your searches saved in an application is incredably useful for picking up on streams I’m interested in and for reputation management purposes.
If their future business model has on site advertising in it at all, then Twitter need the eyeballs to come back to their site. As such by starting to roll out the Lists feature they can start to keep people on the site rather than use the external tools to manage their accounts.
In use I haven’t found lists to be that useful as yet. The site had a hiccup twice when I tried to add people, and the whole process of managing friends through page after page is too laborious to be useful – and that’s with the limited numbers I follow.
I’ve chosen to restrict the people I follow to a fairly low number, it’s currently 500. When you consider Dunbar’s number of the maximum size of a social group who you can actually meaningfully interact with is about 147 then even the 500 is too high for me to pay serious attention to. That’s part of the reason I find the “marketeers” who follow (and are followed by) many thousands of people to be ridiculous. If the point of social media is to interact, then following hordes of people is counter-productive – unless you are trying to turn social into push marketing which is all these people essentially do.
Ironically one of the features of the list mechanism is to “discover new and interesting accounts”, so in solving one problem – manage groups – they’ve created yet another of increasing the amount people an individual follows.