Folks have been abuzz over recent and planned features they feel will sound the death knell for Twitter. When Moments came out, it was derided as forcing the conversation and overemphasizing trends. Next, we have this planned increase of tweet length from SMS-style messages to epic-length, 10,000-character novellas.
Every new addition to a network is going to have its detractors, but there’s one feature that’s been around a lot longer than I think is having a stronger and more negative effect on Twitter: Lists.
The original intent of lists was to focus a user’s assumed “multifaceted” tweet stream into more meaningful “buckets” of topic-based content. I can have all my synthwave folks in one bucket, my gaming folks in a second bucket, and political commentary in a third. A simple and noble concept, right?
As with other Twitter features, actual use has shifted from its intention. Rather than being something to curate or organize messages, lists are becoming a safe haven for folks with Twitter’s growing population and its heightened noise-to-signal ratio.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable trends or metrics for use of lists (not that I’ve found). I personally feel users are turning to lists for two key reasons:
- It reduces the “feel-bads” that come from unfollowing someone. Whether you believe so or not, “following” someone on Twitter always feels like a commitment or affirmation, whereas lists are a heck of a lot more arbitrary. Grooming your lists instead of purging who you follow involves significantly less reputational risk (yes, that’s a thing), since you’re still, in effect, connected. Facebook did something similar in 2014 by adding a “following” feature alongside the “friendship” network it was founded on.
- Lists can be private. Everyone and their mother can see who you follow. Lists, on the other hand, can be completely private, which allows you to curate with no fear of outside curiosity or commentary.
The big problem I personally have with these reasons is they make the Twitter ecosystem far more disingenuous. You have this group of followers who have made a voluntary decision to join your public conversations, but due to their use of lists, are pretty much turning a deaf ear to you. This is no longer real life. The bonds are weaker.
In hindsight, I think Google was on to something with their whole “Circles” ecosystem for Google Plus, but, as with other products like Buzz and Wave, it was a few years ahead of its need.
To sum up, I really, truly don’t like Twitter Lists, and it I don’t think the current use of the feature bodes well for Twitter. We already have this growing plague of folks “talking past one another” instead of talking to each other. Add greater reliability on lists and now it becomes just “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I really wonder whether this will affect adoption of new users, since they’ll be pretty much tweeting to empty air if they continue to assume that followers equals visibility.