How I use lists on Twitter

16 August 2012

The way I use lists on Twitter is pretty straight forward. I hand-curate about a dozen lists into categories of things I'm interested in. Over the years I've seen people complain that they don't want to do the heavy-lifting of managing these Lists. But I've found that lists is a feature that has kept Twitter valuable to me.

I think it is interesting that I'm seeing more and more people come around to the idea of using lists to retain value as Twitter grows, albeit slowly.

It used to be that following every Twitter account that you'd like to keep up-to-date with was enough. For the first few years it was manageable to keep up with. But that quickly changed as Twitter exploded and the amount of content and correspondence on Twitter increased. I'm assuming this was one of the main reasons Twitter created and has maintained the lists feature. Today, Twitter is used as a RSS replacement, a way to keep up with companies, software updates, photo sharing, location sharing, news alerts, weather alerts, celebrities, friends, family, and even used to communicate in place of SMS and e-mail in some cases.

If you want to get value out of this huge content river on Twitter you need to divide that river into smaller streams just to keep it manageable. Until Twitter comes up with a better way, at least.

Alex King just recently started to create a few lists. Here is how he chooses what accounts he follows:

My “following” list on Twitter is made up primarily of people who I know in real life (who aren’t too verbose on Twitter), with a few choice “entertainment” gems. I like it this way, it keeps the noise to a level where I can generally keep up with folks I care about.

I'm a little more strict than Alex. I only add Twitter accounts to my Following list of people I know and interact with on a daily basis and, in most cases, are geographically near to me (the main exception being family spread out all over). It is how I get the most value out of Twitter. When I check Twitter I would like to see what is most important to me and that, as with most anyone, is family and friends.

Everything else that falls out of those rules ends up in a list. And I'm pretty strict about what goes into my lists too. However, I am more willing to throw an account into a list and check lists periodically than I am to ever follow an account directly.

So, what lists do I have? Believe it or not, I'm still trying to come up with the right mix. I'm always switching up lists, their names, purpose, what accounts go into which list, etc. In fact, I've done it enough that the Twitter API won't allow me to add accounts to or delete one of my lists so I have a duplicate, empty list that just sits there. I'm pushing the system to its limits apparently.

I've come up with a few lists that have stood the test of time. About 4 of them. But I have 8 or 9 other lists that still haven't settled. I have some obvious ones for news and software updates but I also have some not-so-obvious ones for interesting accounts I come across. I had written out some of my lists and their descriptions in a draft of this post - but I've removed them because I believe everyone's way of categorizing things is different. It is probably why Twitter hasn't provided you with any default lists.

There is a list that I've recently created that I'd like to tell you about: Scratch. Scratch is a list that I am now using to throw just about everything I come across into. Especially in the real word. See a Twitter account of a restaurant? Add it to Scratch on the go. See a Twitter account that seems funny but you don't have time to read them all now? Add it to Scratch. Then, when you get time... go through and prune the list. Putting the accounts that you ended up liking into their proper lists or following them. The others, like restaurants that you didn't like, delete. I've found it useful, you may too.

I suppose my favorite part about using lists is that I can check Twitter whenever I want without the feeling that I'll be overwhelmed and distracted by tweets. I can choose when I want to be distracted. When I want to sit down and catch up on Twitter I can go through a few of my lists depending on my mood. Like the contrast between picking up the newspaper or starting to watch TV and flipping the channels. If I want to check up on world affairs I can do so without seeing Stephen Fry's photo of a baby otter. Isn't he cute?

This is how I use Twitter's List feature. I recommend more people taking the time to do the same.

 

Side note: Many Twitter clients, including Twitter's own clients on iPad and iPhone, do a terrible job implementing the Lists feature. The best client to use on iPhone, iPad, and Mac has been Tweetbot. I recommend it highly.