Twitter Lists S.A.Q. (Suddenly Asked Questions)

pbumpAfter weeks of teases from Twitter power players, in the last 48 hours Twitter rolled out its Lists feature to the bulk of its users. So what does this mean for you, Mr. or Mrs. Average Twitter User? What does it mean for the web? What are these things, anyway?

Allow us to answer these suddenly popular questions.

What are Lists?
Twitter Lists are collections of Twitter accounts that conform to any criteria you determine. You may wish to create a list of people in your home town or comedians or techies or, if you’re feeling snarky, winners of the 2009 World Series.

If you make these lists public, other Twitter users can follow them en masse. (It follows that you can also make them private, for lists that are important to you but not necessarily others.)

Why did Twitter introduce them?
With last week’s announcement of Twitter’s deals with Google and Bing, tweets will now be catalogued in real-time by the search engines. But how do you determine what tweets are important when they arrive in real-time?

In the beginning, the value of a Twitter user was determined by the number of followers that user had. Twitter, however, then offered new users a Twitter-curated list of people to follow. This “Suggested User List,” or SUL, caused controversy for a variety of reasons. Think about search engines in the late ’90s – Twitter chose to emulate Yahoo!, deciding what information was important, whether you agreed or not. The blowback was gradual, but severe, from concerns about the destruction of the built-in valuation system to questions about tacit political contributions. Understandably, Twitter is planning to end the practice.

Lists – groups of users that other users find most important – transition Twitter to a more Google-like ranking system. Already, in the first forty-eight hours of universal Lists, one can see the wheat of the Twitter crop being separated out. Lists provide a PageRank substitute, allowing for some real-time valuation of the usefulness of Tweets.

N.B.: This is not the official word from Twitter HQ. Lists are utilitarian in many other ways. This added benefit, however, seems of some significance.

How do I use Lists?
The interface is, almost necessarily, a little cumbersome right now. When you go to your Twitter page (and log in), you’ll see beneath the search box, if Lists are activated on your account, something that looks like this:

Click “New List”, and this window pops up:

(On yours, of course, “pbump” will be replaced with your username.)

When you’ve named your list (in this example, “Test list”), you’re taken to the page where you can add users, one at a time:

If you’re only adding people you follow, you can also view click “View all” under the icons in the “Following” sidebar, and add people from there. Click the Lists button and a pop-up will appear, as in the following picture:

Click the checkbox for the proper list (in this case, “Winners of the 2009 World Series”) and you’re off. (In a sort of tortoise-and-the-hare way, since this page only displays twenty people at a time.) Start adding folks, and your list will grow. Slowly. (Ed. How slowly? As slowly as it takes to type in a name to the search box, search, then click the drop-down menu, select a list, and add the person. One. By. One.)

Where can I find these “Lists”?

To see all of the lists a user has created, go to  To see what lists a Twitter user (including yourself) has been added to, visit (Obviously, replace USERNAME with your or someone else’s username.)

Exciting news: I’m already on two lists! (This is not at all impressive.) (Especially since one of them is my own.)

Why is creating Lists so cumbersome?
Two reasons.

What makes Twitter so great is that the system more of a protocol than a website. Very few people actually add or read tweets through In fact, 10 times more traffic goes through Twitter’s API (application programming interface) than through the website. This is the set of web tools that allows an application to use the Twitter system, and what has spawned the great tools power users enjoy, like Tweetdeck or Tweetie.

The problem, right now, is that the API for the Lists feature isn’t quite done. Marcel Molina, an engineer on the Twitter API team, told Mediaite via e-mail that API will be ready for developers to use sometime next week. At that point, look for an explosion of browser-based tools which will allow you to quickly and easily build lists in a more intuitive way.

Unfortunately, though, Molina also indicates that having the ability to batch update a list (that is, to add a number of users at a time) is under consideration, but not currently supported. This means that creating or editing a large list will continue to be a little pokey – though resourceful developers may find a way around this limitation.

Should I add Mediaite editors and columnists to my Lists?
Yes. Yes, you should.

Mediaite Columnists & Contributors [Twitter Lists]
Don’t Get Cocky, Twitter [Mediaite]
How Journalists Can Use Twitter Lists to Customize, Discover and Curate [Poynter]

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