Twitter lists: You are no longer the center

Twitter has created lists. Now, rather than connecting directly with others in the microblogging-whatever service, you can simply snatch names and build your own list of people under any title you want (Gurus, Athletes, Dorks, Quacks). To take a peek, the new site Listorious offers collections of lists where you can peruse groups of interesting humans like stacks of dusty comic books at an antique shop.

If you play in social media you know that human desires drive most online connections, and now this new Twitter sorting mechanism for egos has people breathing hard. Is it a new form of self-aggrandizement? A new way for ideas to connect with the world? Is it turning human connections away from one-to-one social networks, back to vicariously watched broadcast channels? Grad student Venessa Miemis posed great questions about lists over at her blog, and here is our response:

Your ego has been stolen

“Venessa, nice to meet you … What I find most interesting is this new format has changed social media in a fundamental way — removing the human ego from the center. In the (very recent) past, all social graphs revolved around an individual at the core; now the individual user is removed, and social graphs can float as bubbles in the ether, evolving over time (just as your own list of thinkers will change).

“Networks of people with no ego at the center driving the connections create some intriguing moral questions. Will stalking others be easier, if you now follow people without them realizing it? Can someone defame your name, if they put you on a list of, say, Really Bad People (think of the ugly names of lists posed in the next presidential election!)? Will list-chasing by wannabe thought leaders create a new currency for self promotion? Will companies such as IZEA, which have polluted social media with paid posts and paid tweets, now game the list system by encouraging payments to insert brands or advertisers into popular lists? Will the ability of anyone to promote others to lists create a new sentiment analysis scoring system, providing more intelligence to data miners as they can now see what markets of people think about the individuals or brands in their lists?

“I have no answers. The fundamental issue is people are learning how to manipulate the connections inside human networks for the first time, where in the past they could only control the message. Will be fun to watch.”

To explore more, here is Venessa’s own “meta-list” of the top lists she likes.

Image: Idlphoto

8 thoughts on “Twitter lists: You are no longer the center

  1. My response to Venessa would be very different. I don’t believe lists suppress egos. To the contrary, lists offer yet another way to stoke egos. The competition is again on. People have made the numbers of followers (a ridiculous measure in the first place) utterly irrelevant by using and abusing follower farms. Does anyone doubt for a second that lists will be similarly abused? LIsts aren’t a new network. They aren’t a new technology. They aren’t a new way of doing things.

    We spend most of our time fixating on tools and measures, and very little time actually talking, sharing, and learning. I also don’t have answers here – but I do have a strong suspicion that we’re continuing to move in the wrong direction. We use technology as a crutch to create and manage connections. That might work for some, but it is also the reason that our “connections” have less and less substance as time passes.

  2. All this debate at this point may be much ado about nothing. Ive checked a lo of lists and the first thing that impresses me is how few people are following them. I don’t think I’ve yet found a list that has more followers than people on it. In short, until there’s evidence of significant adoption, they don’t much matter do they?

  3. I hope the Lists on Twitter do get rid of or minimize ego. Ego is always asserting its trivial junk, especially if it’s a person already famous in the “real world”. Celebrities, stars, and gurus are the most boring of all entities.

    You can remove yourself from someone’s list by Blocking them. You can see what lists you’re on in your Twitter sidebar: Listed.

    We must use these new tools to destroy hierarchies, celebrity status, narcissism, command and control mentality, and elitism.

    The whole point of the Web revolution and the blogosphere.

    Now we can assign specific Twitter users to Lists we create, and thus produce a SideTwitter type thing, a Twitter Blogroll. It’s a way to circumvent the now useless Following list which for most of us is too large for anyone to sort through for the gems!

  4. So far the thing feels the most useful to me is the opportunity to group subjects together. I primarily follow people who tweet about media, new media, and social media but I am also interested in science and wine, for instance. So I can group those tweeters on lists and when I am looking for some interesting neurology news or a good Viognier, I can go right to those lists and scan them. I am also grouping news feeds, public interest groups, etc. It feels like the big distraction is the desire to create “Top Tweeter” and “Best Tweeter” and “Thought Leader” lists, which say as much about who you aren’t including as about who you have. I suspect many of the most truly useful lists (real friends, annoying people you want to track but hate to follow, business rivals) will probably remain private, like browser bookmark folderss (which is how I had already created several lists)

  5. Thanks all.

    @Catherine, you probably have the best idea — the real utility will be using lists to organize contacts or ideas in social media. But it also creates a kind of metadata on how people rank other people on Twitter. Til now, you were either followed or not; now you can be put into categories that give an indication of how others score you. Could be useful for data mining, consumer segmentation, etc.

    @Ross, I agree that egos will chase lists, but my point was egos have lost control of the social networks structure — since others now manage what social graph you are thrust into.

    @Shel — Nice observation. So far people on lists outweigh people reading them by about 50 to 1. If a list falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did the list still make a sound? 😉

  6. My two cents:

    Lists have definitely already become an “I’ll stroke your back, you stroke mine/how many lists are YOU on?” type of geekfest, with far more ego involved than “# of followers” and all the crap that goes with that. So as an external tool, they’re more or less worthless.

    But… as a personal tool, used in precisely the was Catherine V describes, they’re quite useful. And if I were looking to follow a wine list and if (and this is a BIG if) I happened to know that Catherine, who I actually know, had started one, I might just follow hers to save myself time. Otherwise, I’d put Gary Vee and a bunch of others on a list and use it as she describes.

    Personally, I’m using them to recreate the Spy Lists that Spy Magazine used to put together back in the day. Lists of seemingly random people and it’s up to the reader to figure out what they all have in common. Probably won’t work on Twitter, because the convention relies on your knowing who the people on the list are and something about them, but a fun diversion nonetheless.

  7. Well done. I believe the lists have jostled the ego just enough to affect some change. Follower counts lose their luster and now there is the almighty list. This allows people to follow me and not really follow me. I like that.

    It will be interesting to watch people use their vast creative skill sets to stir up new connections, learn new things and perhaps cause a controversy because of a few skewed lenses 😉

    We’ll see. I’ll be here watching and laughing with my ego checked at the door.

    Unfollow me.

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