Why Twitter Lists are changing how I use Twitter

by Allan Jenkins on November 24, 2009

Twitter, as all Twitterworld now knows, launched its Twitter Lists feature a couple of weeks ago. Between travel, the flu and work, I’ve had little time, until now, to play with lists, but I like what I see. And it’s changing how I use Twitter.

Some advantages are obvious:

  • Twitter lists let you group and sort similar followees. For example, my @allanjenkins/iabc group, where I follow 230+ IABC members, chapters and regions, and my @allanjenkins/travel-tourism list, where I track other tourism professionals. Two very different groups, both important to me.
  • Twitter lists are like tags: you can put anyone you follow into several groups. For example, I have put @connectbyhertz (The Hertz Company’s customer outreach Twitterers)  into the @allanjenkins/travel-tourism list and another (private) list where I track companies using Twitter for customer engagement.

Now, the desktop and phone client Tweetdeck has long offered grouping. But if you are grouping on Tweetdeck, you will need to "know" your followees pretty well… you will need to know that @crescenzo is in corporate communication and @LPT is, too, but @theseboots has  nothing to do with @themurr, who writes the Writing Boots blog. That makes grouping tedious on the desktop and horrid hell on the iPhone (the two do not synch).

With Twitter Lists, though, you can use the Twitter Friends Bio At A Glance Greasemonkey script (if you use Firefox). With that, you get a list of followees  (and followers) with a full profile appended. Makes it a breeze to bang people into different lists… even if you follow many hundreds. And, because the lists live at Twitter, not your desktop or phone, you get one stop shopping.

Another advantage:

  • Twitter lists let you follow other people’s lists — in effect, letting others who know more than you curate and edit lists you are interested in.

But what I love about Twitter lists is that you can list anyone, not just those you follow…

  • You can stop following people and organizations you are just tracking. For example, a few days ago, I was following over 1000 twitterers. More than 100 were companies, IABC chapters, news organizations, etc, with whom I would never have a conversation on Twitter…. I was just watching their stream. But Twitter lists let me move them to a list, where I can still  track them, then "unfollow" them  in my Twitter stream. Instantly I dropped nearly 200 followees, cleaning up my timeline.
  • When new followers follow you, you don’t have to make a snap decision about allow/followback/block/blockspam… you can just toss them in a list and let them prove their worth.
  • You can list people you are considering following… again, a probationary thing.

Just some early thoughts on Twitter Lists… but I think it’s the best improvement ever from Twitter.




Steve Crescenzo November 24, 2009 at 4:05 PM


I haven’t had a chance to fiddle with the list function yet . . . but your blog inspired me to dive in. I’ll let you know how I use them. You make them sound so helpful.

Steve C.

Ike November 24, 2009 at 4:10 PM

Allan, I find nothing with which to disagree. This is the exact post I would have written, if I had bothered with lists yet.

I am waiting for a utility that gives me drag-and-drop, as I did a “purge” a few months ago, and do NOT relish the notion of going one-by-one through my list again.

Heather Turner November 24, 2009 at 4:21 PM

Great Post Allan, many of my thoughts exactly. Now I don’t have to write a post about it, just point people here. :)

Jennifer Wah, ABC November 24, 2009 at 7:33 PM

You’ve painted a clear and useful picture, Allan, and I have no doubt that all of what you’ve described would make my Twitter experience both more efficient, and more enjoyable.

Trouble is – I don’t know why – but I can’t seem to visualize the map, in my brain, of how Twitter’s lists are supposed to work. I’ve played a bit, but have not connected the dots yet.

Your post helps – I’ll give it another go!

Kristen November 24, 2009 at 8:33 PM

This was VERY helpful information for me! I have not really been able to figure out the “list” function on my own, and was too busy/lazy to try to work through it despit having a vague idea that there was probably something useful in there somewhere if only I could determine what it was. Having seen your thoughts, I’m going to take a closer look at this.

Thanks for the clear and helpful post on this Allan!

Dora Smith November 25, 2009 at 8:52 AM

Thanks Allan. I had just started using lists too and found it a good exercise to clean up my followeres. Hadn’t thought about unfollowing them in my main stream though or using the Firefox bio at a glance. Thanks for the tips and including me on one of your lists.Now if I can just get on Santa’s nice list ;-)

Donna Papacosta November 25, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Thanks, Allan! Clear and helpful as always.

Kristen Sukalac November 30, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Thanks, Allan. Inspired by you, I just did some major reorganizing (which is still a work in progress). I think lists will actually inspire me to “follow” more Tweeps, now that there’s a way to exclude the Tweeters I just want to monitor from those I might want to talk to.

And lists will give the people evaluating influence even more work now that it’s not so simple and who is being followed or not, because you can still influence someone who doesn’t follow you if they follow a list you’re in!

Allan Jenkins December 5, 2009 at 3:41 AM

Kristen, it will change how we look at influence, and it sure punches a hole in the “thousands follow me so I must be good” crowd.

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