Twitter lists and fake following

Twitter is rolling out the option to make lists of people you follow. So far most of the lists I’ve seen have been about categorizing people: booze, irl, libertariat, coffee, and rock-solid-peckerwoods (yes!) are a few I find myself in. This is useful and, since most lists are public, a potentially great way to find new people worth following.

So far I’m just using the feature to deal with the massive flow of tweets, creating a separate list of the people I care most about following. I can check this short list when I’ve been offline for a while without being inundated by posts, dipping into the main Twitter stream whenever I have more time. This is basically the feature I hoped for back in April:

A simpler approach would be to offer people binary levels of contacts on Twitter: One A-List they never want to miss and a larger stream they follow only as time allows. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an easy solution. It could be implemented completely within a browser if Twitter decided to make this happen. Yet as far as I know, this option doesn’t exist anywhere.

And now we have it. Thanks, Twitter!

Using lists like this reduces the costs of following new people since one no longer has to worry that they’ll distract attention from more relevant content. But there’s a downside to this: It basically enables the “fake following” feature of FriendFeed. When users have to compete for attention, the decision to follow someone signals some level of commitment and engagement (unless one is the type of user who follows everyone indiscriminately). Now there’s no way to tell if someone is really following you or just politely fake following you, which I think might reduce some of the live conversation aspects of Twitter that make it such a cool platform.

Twitter has become too big to not have a feature like this. In the past few months I’ve been reluctant to follow new people simply because I don’t want to miss updates from my close friends in the flood of tweets from acquaintances. So yes, it’s probably worth paying the costs of having lists, but I’m going to miss the transparent simplicity of the old system.


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