Twitter Lists: A Natural Evolution of Internet List Culture
The Internet has a strongly ingrained "list-making" and "collecting" culture. Back in the early 1990's, during my "gopher mistress" days, I could use this Internet protocol to create lists of lists of public files on servers on the Internet. It made it easy for me to navigate through public files available on the Internet in a linear way. Even better, I could browse, collect, and organize files on my own gopher and make it available for others to "gopher surf."
Back then, there was a lot less information on the Internet than there is today - so there was less redundancy of lists. Unfortunately, the gopher did not live a long life, it was soon overshadowed by the World Wide Web.
Even in the early days of the web, there was the urge to organize collections of files and links. I discovered the WWW Virtual Library in 1993 when there were only 200 servers on the Internet. I volunteered to be the Dance Librarian. What that meant was that the Library pointed to my dance links on the Arts Wire server. It also enabled the WWW Virtual Library to scale in terms of server capacity and allow for a distributed network of volunteer librarians.
I remember organizing a meet up for 25 of these volunteer web librarians (all guys) when they came to Cambridge, MA for Web Consortium Meeting. That's where I met Arthur Secret, the project coordinator of this web volunteer effort. (He worked at Cern or the UN at the time and everyone wanted to view his public FTP folder - after all it was the "secret" folder.)
As the Web started to explode in 1995ish, I remember the dance links getting so plentiful that I started to organize volunteers who could self-organize different sections on their servers. (I kept the ballet and modern dance links).
There is something about Twitter Lists, the new feature recently launched by Twitter, that allows Twitter users to create their own lists of followers that reminds of the gopher. Twitter lists lets you curate your followers and keep connected to smaller affinity groups of your choosing. This feature is similar to the functionality to lists that you can create with popular Twitter clients like Tweetdeck, but with some important and compelling differences. Your lists can be public.
This gives us a number of ways to look at Twitter lists and their potential.
Curation of Dynamic Resources
What made me think about the gopher and early web days, was the feature where you can join any public list to receive the same tweets, whether or not you follow the included individuals. This intelligence of the crowds, yet manual, filtering helps you improve the signal to noise on any your topics of Internet.
Twitter lists are very easy to create - so you can expect to see many people making Twitter lists and maybe even some large directories of Twitter lists. The key is to find good lists to follow or the ones created byTwitter users who know how to curate information and energy or capacity to keep their lists up to date. This is not unlike the strategy I used for people I followed on delicious or what is known as "Tag Sniffing." (Find the expert curators in topics that you don't have time or desire to go deep on and follow their lists, resources, or friends.)
I was going to spend a lot of time making up different lists and sub-lists of nonprofit techies, social causes, social media gurus, metrics geeks, and the way too many other topics I'm obsessed with, but realized all I had to do was find someone who I knew and trusted and follow their list. For example, I was looking for a list of Twitter users from Africa - and after some conversation with Kabissa on Twitter, I found their lists.
However, we're still in the early stages of lists - and lists are like gardening - they require maintenance, watering and feeding. And, that has to be done manually. Will Twitter lists become an graveyard of outdated lists? Maybe we'll see some tools to automate list maintenance, widgets, and clients.
Twitter Lists and List Numbers As Popularity Contests
The problem with lists is that there is always someone left off the list and that can lead to hurt feelings as Chris Brogan suggested in this post. And while some people disagreed, list are elitist. And, then there is the new metric of being "listed" that is how many other people included you in a list. Some view this as "another stupid number to worry about." Don't get me started on stupid Twitter numbers, but I'll save that for another post.
Nonprofits and Twitter Lists
Amy Sample Ward, on Socialbrite, has a post with some recommendations on the types of lists they should create. It is important to remember that lists do require maintenance - and you don't want your Twitter lists down the road to become outdated - like web pages that aren't updated. Amy riffs on a post by Geeking for Good outlining seven different types of nonprofit twitter lists:
* Your organization’s chapters and campaigns.
* Related international organizations and campaigns.
* Organizations that are somewhat related to your organisation.
* Celebrities, politicians and others with a high profile.
* Retweeters and people who have contacted you.
Twitter lists is just one of some new features that Twitter is rolling out, so as the service grows, so will nonprofits use of it.
Twitter List Resources
Scoble: Twitter Bugs and Brilliance
Mashable: 10 Ways To Use Twitter Lists
Mashable: How To Use Twitter Lists
My Twitter Lists links are here.