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Twitter lists give the finger to #followfriday?

“Sorry, you’re not on the list.” Oh, the burn. And if you’re on Twitter, the indignation is now monumentally public. But then I’m reminded of what my mother told me: it’s not quantity but quality that counts. And sometimes, the who is better than the what…

“Sorry, you’re not on the list.” Oh, the burn. And if you’re on Twitter, the indignation is now monumentally public. But then I’m reminded of what my mother told me: it’s not quantity but quality that counts. And sometimes, the who is better than the what

Twitter logoSo what’s all the fuss about with these newfangled lists on Twitter anyhow? Well it’s really very simple: assuming most users are exceptionally lazy, for them to go to the effort of actually making a list and then adding you to it, I’d take that as a big fat endorsement.

Lists as a measure of trust?

But what about all the his-list-count-is-bigger-than-mine moaning and griping crowd? There’s where my dearly departed mother and her oft cited truisms comes into play. Would you rather be in / on five lists for some of the most influential people in your social network, or would you rather be in / on two hundred lists for people you don’t really know or even consider influential? If you had to think about that, leave now.

All of which brings us rathe neatly to the who and the what of social networking — it’s what you say and do that gets you noticed and then onto the lists, and then it’s the who that will propel you out into the Twittersphere.

When people add you to a list, it’s a very visual and public endorsement of their appreciation of you in some way, and the name of the list can be considered the context of that appreciation: “engaging people”, “friends”, “real people”, “social media” and “tech” et cetera.

People can also follow lists. Being on notable and popular list means you just jumped right to the head of the popularity queue. You could also interpret being included on a list as an indication of trust. I’ll leave you to think about that for a moment or two and how monumental a change to the Twitter landscape that is.

Life. Love. Lists

Within hours of the erratic roll-out of the long-discussed lists feature for Twitter, if there was a hash tag for the mood, it would have been #inequity.

“Pft! you can stick your lists!”

“So how come [insert name of user here] is on 52 lists and I’m only on 5?! She’s a freakin’ MLMer, goddamit!”

Look familiar? Just for the record, I’m on 26 lists. Come to think of it, as I look around, I see more and more people using lists, so people can’t all be lazy. At least some of those following me aren’t.

For those not in the know, Twitter first rolled lists out back in 2008 over in Japan, then called groups. So it’s not like they’re a new thing. Lists have been a long time coming. What I can’t quite figure out is why such a feature lite service as Twitter should have such a preponderance for pondering over features for such a long time. Anyway, that doesn’t matter because they’re here now.

Sorry, you’re not on the list!

So, we have lists. You’re not on as many as you’d like, eh? It’s still very early days. If after a month or so there’s no change, then Twitter — by way of your followers — is telling you something very simple: you’re not compelling enough for people to make the effort to add you to a list.

Shock! Horror! Also true.

What I find most amusing is the sheer level of unadulterated hypocrisy amongst a great swathe of Twitter users. Cast your minds back to those periods when the fail whale rules and Twitter is down for the count, and who suddenly appears on the collective social network radar? Why, it’s FriendFeed of course! But we don’t want to use FriendFeed — it’s complex and there’s too many features:

“We routinely use exceptionally complex software each and every day of our business lives. Do we balk at using Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop? No, we don’t. There are alternatives to both, but the fact of the matter is, if you want features, then there’s a commensurate level of complexity associated with those additional features.”

But using Twitter was never an exercise in Zen social networking, or minimalist communication. No, it’s herd mentality and group thinking writ as large on the web as anywhere else in society. So for the most part, my protestations largely fell on deaf hears.

Well now there’s another feature on the way soon, too — the re-Tweet button, which Twitter appears to be working on behind the scenes. I wouldn’t expect too many people to acknowledge their idiotic ambivalence towards FriendFeed from earlier in the year, even less so now since FriendFeed is presently being absorbed by the ever-expanding Facebook empire.

And then there’s an even darker side to Twitter lists. Or at least, there will be. People being people, I predict money changing hands; one person paying another to be included in a very popular list of theirs. It’s unethical. It’s also inevitable.

With that as a backdrop, who the hell needs a Follow Friday, anyhow? After all, she / he who pays most wins!

Twitter is now in some respects an established communication tool. Despite its limitations, there are those that have risen to the challenge of an economy of words and shone brightly. With the introduction of lists, Twitter is now offering us a unique and constant alternative to #followfriday that’s specific, visible and always on…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.