Lists Threatens Openess Of Twitter Network

Blogging celebrity Anil Dash examines Twitter Lists as a way to tag real-time Web feeds

When Twitter Lists began rolling out to the bulk of the microblog service’s 60 million users the week of 26 Oct, eWEEK opined about the impact of the feature, which lets users group Twitter contacts into specific lists.

Because other users can view the lists of those they are following and subscribe to them, or join lists that people put them in, it has been generally concluded that Lists will help users find more valuable contacts. High-tech observers have since come forward to explore the opportunities in more detail.

In a blog post on 30 Oct, blogging celebrity Anil Dash examined Twitter Lists as a way to tag real-time Web feeds, while the Bivings Report said getting added to a Twitter list is more of an endorsement than a arbitrary “follow.”

Noting that Twitter Lists is also available for other applications to use, modify and share—Seesmic will soon add Lists to its desktop client—Dash pointed to early efforts of human-edited directories such as the Open Directory Project, Wikipedia and Yahoo. He said Lists is a winner because users must be signed in, creating an authentication and relationship requirement that reduces spam.

Using Lists, Dash said, people can create and exchange curated collections of feeds, create tag clouds about specific feeds and then “organise the collections into a hierarchy by inheriting the category structure of sites like Wikipedia.” In the post, Dash wrote:

“We’re used to exploring photographs or individual Web pages by clicking on tags that were assigned by the creators or their community, and it will be just as valuable and useful to be able to explore entire feeds the same way. Open formats and APIs for exchanging this data already exist, so I can’t wait to see a few enterprising hackers build the tools that let us revisit the idea of Web directories.”

Additionally, Todd Zeigler of the Bivings Report noted in a blog post 31 Oct. that Lists could bring a beacon of light to one of the dark sides of Twitter: the stat padding that Twitterers engage in to gain more followers, thereby appearing important or influential.

Noting that a Twitter account with 100 engaged followers is much more influential than one followed by thousands of disengaged users, Zeigler said getting added to a list is a bigger deal than simply getting someone to follow you. Zeigler wrote:

“People follow folks for lots of reasons. Out of courtesy. Because they like their avatar. To get them to follow them back. Adding someone to a list is more of an endorsement—you are saying this person is someone worth listening to. While I’m sure people will now work to game their ‘lists’ number, in the short term I think it provides a really interesting insight into how respected Twitter users are.”

eWEEK believes Zeigler’s analysis is spot on, but we also think that in separating the wheat from the chaff, lots of Twitter users will be alienated and left out.

Twitter-using snobs may rejoice in this, but this seems to be a case where Twitter is letting users put up their own walled gardens, challenging the traditionally open spirit of the service.

Anyway, we want to take an informal poll. It’s early days still for the mass adoption of Lists, but we want to know what you think of it. Specifically, how is Lists affecting your Twitter experience: a lot, a little or not at all, and why?

Meanwhile, read Seesmic CEO Loic Le Meur’s predictions on the future of Twitter here.