Twitter has added a new feature that should have been available a long time ago: the ability to create lists of people that you want to segment from your regular Twitter feed. Why is this important? Because it allows you to immediately focus in on specific information you need, without having to wade through pages and pages of inane tweets you could care less about, but allow you to still follow your friends.
As colleague Chris Miller has pointed out over on The Social Networker, there are limitations on Twitter's implementation of lists that foster true collaboration. But as a personal tool, they have already paid huge dividends in getting information, finding additional contacts to follow, and saving time. The one big failure point in lists for me is the inability, so it appears, to target tweets to specific lists. Why is this important? Because information intended for a subset of people you follow may not be of interest to a lot of people that follow your tweets.
Here is a list of some, but not all, of the pros and cons of using twitter lists.
Ability to subset your lists to follow certain segments easier.
One of the big challenges in using Twitter has been that it is very difficult to hone in on specific people without clicking through many layers of tweets or many levels of the "following" lists. This especially frustrating because what Twitter presents in their core user-interface (UI) is not user friendly at all, because lists can grow exceedingly large and cumbersome to use.
Ability to follow peoples tweets without having to follow them formally
You probably have a lot of friends and colleagues you want to follow for personal reasons, and others you follow just to to see what they are saying (i.e. a watch list). This can make it difficult to manage your main feed. With Twitter lists, you can do this without cluttering up your main feed. Instead of having to maintain separate twitter accounts, you can manage from a single interface.
Ability to share lists with other people if you choose
With Twitter lists, you have the option of keeping your lists private. This makes sense if you want to add a level of obfuscation* to keep the people you are following "secret", as it is difficult to navigate big lists. However, you can also share the lists. This is a great way to attract followers and visitors that might not otherwise know about you.
tr.v. ob·fus·cat·ed, ob·fus·cat·ing, ob·fus·cates
1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: "A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth" (Robert Conquest).
2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore.
Source: The Free Dicionary
Inability to target tweets to lists
It would be nice to target tweets to specific lists. However you cannot, and this is a big hole in the Twitter lists model. If this were available, the tool would be an even bigger winner. An important note here is that is you have someone on a list and they are not following you, they would not even see the messages if you could target them.
Inability to block people from adding you to lists
This is a biggie because you want to have some level of controls over who is "using" you on their lists. While it may be great to have someone like Linda Cohn following your main Twitter feed or adding you to one of their lists, you may not want to be on the list of a spammer or unacceptable group/individual. This may be important to you if are concerned with personal brand management.
Inability to Add Yourself to Your Own Lists
If you are maintaining private lists, there is no need to add yourself to your lists. But if you are creating lists for others to follow, they do not see you in the list. This is not good from a marketing perspective, and you can read more about this over on Chris Miller's "The Social Networker" blog.
UPDATE (Nov 19, 2009): There is a quirky way to add yourself to your own lists, and the steps are outlined here.
As a company that focuses in the collaboration space, this is another biggie: There is no way to create and maintain and community managed list. As a result, you have multiple lists with overlapping content and similar (if not the same) names. Again you can read more about this over on Miller's blog.
Inability to Nest Lists
It would be nice to be able to have smaller lists like "ESPN NFL On-Air Talent" or "ESPN College Hoops Talent" that can be maintained separately and included in multiple master lists such as "Sports On-Air Talent" and/or "NFL On-Air Talent." This Visio diagram gives a visual example (click on image to see full resolution):
Again, you might ask why this is important. Very simply, it is always much easier to manage people in one list than have to deal with multiple lists.
Inability to Remove People Directly From Lists
If you are looking at one of your lists and want to remove someone, there is no "remove from list" command. You have to open their profile and remove them from there. THEN you can go back to your list and manage more people being followed. This is just too many clicks to efficiently manage a list.
So Who Has Eye on Sports Media Added to Lists?
I have created a number of lists that are still under development. It is a long painstaking process to create these lists because of the cumbersome process of going through our list of followers and followees to determine who to add to what lists. But despite the cons listed above, Twitter lists can be a very effective tool in your belt if you understand the limitations going into the process.
If you are a Twitter user (or not), here are some of the lists you might want to check out and follow.
@IOnSportsMedia Twitter Lists
If you would like to talk to us about how we can work with you on these and other business process issues, both technical and non-technical, you can email us at infoATthecayugagroupDOT.com (replacing the AT and DOT of course) or call us at 706-363-0299.