Twitter Lists - The Complete Guide

Twitter’s new lists feature was rolled out towards the end of October 2009 and millions of lists have already been created. However, many people are still trying to work out how this new feature will enhance their Twitter experience.

So here’s our attempt to answer the most frequently asked question about Twitter lists.

Twitter Lists - The Complete Guide

What Are Twitter Lists?

The Twitter lists feature is a new way to organize the flow of messages through your account. The concept is similar to the group feature that various third party services provide.

It allows you to group the stream of messages from a specific set of users and isolate them in a separate timeline. This makes it easier to follow the messages that flow through your account by categorizing them into various topics that you choose.

For example, you may follow people who tweet about golf, reading and internet marketing. Instead of mixing all of this information into your main timeline, the lists feature allows you to separate the strands to enhance your Twitter experience.

It allows you to create your own portfolio of different tribes within the same account, so that you can tell at a glance what the people are talking about in each distinct community at any time.

How Do I Create A New List?

It’s quick and easy to create a new list. Once you’ve logged into your account, you should see a new Lists section in the right hand panel just below the search box. Below that you should see a link that reads “New List”.

Create A New Twitter List

A new window will appear giving you the options to create your new list. First, name your list, for example, top online marketers. The name you select will determine your list’s address, using the following structure

Twitter List Creation Form

You can also add a short description which will help people determine the theme of your list.

Next, you have to select whether you want your list to be public or private. A public list means that anyone can view or subscribe to the list, while a private list can only be accessed by you. Not even the people on your private list will be able to see your list.

If you want to create a list of Twitter users that you recommend to other people, remember to make the list public. On the other hand, if you want to create a list of your competitors, your best customers or your family, you may want to keep it private.

Finally, click the Create List button and you’re ready to start adding people to your new list. The site will prompt you to search for people to add to your new list.

You can add users from their profile page by clicking the lists button at the top right then using the drop down menu to select which of your lists you want to add them to. This allows you to add a user to multiple lists at the same time.

Add New Users To Your Twitter List - Method 1

Alternatively, clicking on either the Followers or Following links in your profile will display the people that are following you or those that you are following. These pages now contain a new button next to every user that allows you to manage the lists on which they appear. [managelist.jpg]

Add New Users To Your Twitter List - Method 2

You can also add yourself to your lists by clicking the Profile link in the navigation bar at the top right of the screen, then clicking the Lists button that appears to the left of your bio. Just select which of your lists you want to add yourself to.

Add Yourself To Your Own List

Are There Any Limits?

At present each list is limited to a maximum of 500 people and each user is limited to creating a maximum of 20 lists.

These limits may change as this new feature develops, however there is a suggestion that these limits have been imposed in order to encourage people to refine their lists (only including the best, most relevant users) thus increasing the power of the marketing data that Twitter can crowd-source.

How Can I Find Lists To Follow?

Check out the lists created by your friends and other Twitter users that you respect. Take a look at the lists that other people have added them to.

Tweetdeck Directory, contains a rapidly growing database of Twitter lists that are categorized into a wide range of popular topics.

Listorious, is an independent site that maintains a categorized directory of Twitter lists. They allow you to browse lists by category or by popularity. Go to All Tags under the top tags column and look for tags that describe the type of list you’d like to follow. It’s also possible to use their search function to find lists according to keyword or the creator of the list.

Twitter List Directory - Listorious

Tweetmeme, the service that powers the green retweet buttons on many blogs, now provides the ability to find the most Tweeted about Twitter lists.

Twitter List Directory - Tweetmeme

How Do I Manage My Lists?

Lists I’m On

Click the “Listed” link on the right hand side of the page just below your bio. This will take you to the list control center.

List Of Lists

The first tab “Lists Following You” shows all the lists that other people have added you to.

Clicking on one of the lists will take you to the list page, which allows you to view the stream of messages posted by list members. You can also select to follow the list and as mentioned below you can also leave the list by blocking the person who created it.

Example List Page

If you find that you’ve been added to a list that you don’t want to be associated with, such as “The Biggest Losers”, you have two options.

First, if you want to be removed from the list but still want to follow the list creator, you could contact them and ask to be removed from the list.

Second, you can remove yourself from that list by blocking the person who created it. To achieve this just visit the list page that you want to leave (click “Listed” on the right side of the page below your bio, click the “Lists Following You” tab, then click the name of the list), then click “Block [username]” under the actions section on the right hand side of the page.

Just remember that blocking another user means that they can’t follow you until you unblock them.

This is one feature that should be made easier to understand. The words “Leave List” would be much easier to understand, rather than the rather derivative process of having to block the list creator.

Lists I Follow

The second tab “Lists You Follow” allows you to view the lists that you follow then click through to the specific page for each list. This allows you to keep up to date with the messages posted by people on the list and gives you the option to stop following certain lists.

Lists I Have Created

Once you create your own list, the name of every list will appear in the lists section on the right hand of the page below the search box. Clicking on the icon to the right of the list name will take you to the main page for the list.

This page shows the main timeline containing all the messages posted by people on the list. It also shows other details such as the number of people that the list is following and the number of people who are following the list. If your list is public this is exactly what everyone else will see when they visit the page.

The only exceptions are the two links at the top right of the page, which allow you to edit the name, description and public/private nature of the list. The other link allows you to delete the list. However, at the time of writing, some people were having problems deleting their lists and deleting people from their lists.

And please bear in mind that if you turn a public list private, everyone who followed it will no longer be able to view it. Likewise, if you turn it back to a public list, these people will have to re-follow it.

You can delete people from your list by clicking the “Following” link on the right hand of the main list page. This will display the details of all the people on your list. Just click the button to the right of their username and use the drop down box to uncheck the lists from which you want to remove them.

If your list is private, it will be shown with a small closed padlock icon.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Twitter Lists?

At present, the list feature has developed three main uses. They can be used to;

1. Organize the messages from flow through your account,

2. Recommend the best people to follow or find the best people to follow, and

3. Measure the amount of influence of the people who manage the lists or the people who appear on them.

However, other valuable uses are appearing every day.

Some people use the lists to gain a broad overview of how the Twitter community perceives them. For example, if you appear on 150 lists about business, marketing, entrepreneurs etc, that’s how the community views your contribution to the network.

Lists can also be a way to show your appreciation for the content that certain people add to their messages. If people who provide the most value get the greatest recognition, it will improve the quality of the whole network.

If you follow more than 500-1000 people, lists are a powerful way to organize the flow of information through your account so that it can be consumed quickly without missing anything important.

Lists also provide you with a number of ways to consume the information produced by other Twitter users. You can;

1. Follow them in the traditional manner

2. Put them on a list

3. Follow them and put them on a list

If you find that you’re following too many people, you now have the option to unfollow them from your main account and move them to a public or private list. This gives you continued access to their messages, without making your main account unmanageable.

This is also a useful way to follow the messages of more people if you reach the stage where you have followed 2,000 people and can’t follow any more until the number of people following you moves above 1820.

As you can create up to 20 lists that each follow up to 500 people it’s possible to keep track of an additional 10,000 accounts beyond the initial 2,000 limit of your main account. Whether this leads to a proliferation of useless lists created by spammers that add nothing to the network remains to be seen.

And finally, as there doesn’t appear to be any limit to the number of lists you can follow, so you can consume the messages in as many different lists as you want.

How Do I Promote My New Public Lists?

First, make sure that you add a good description to your list, that contains plenty of keywords to describe the category of people who are included within your list.

Second, tweet out a link to your new list’s main page.

Third, add your list to the Twitter list directories that are appearing such as Listorious and Tweetdeck Directory. This will provide your new list with greater visibility. Just make sure to include the most relevant tags to describe your list and include a short description.

Fourth, consider tweeting about your list on #followfriday with a short note explaining why others should follow these people.

Fifth, use all the traditional internet marketing routes, such as adding the list address to your site/blog, email signatures, articles, videos, PR etc.

What Else Should I Bear In Mind About Lists?

1. It’s important to know what you want to achieve using the lists feature. Do you want to find great people to follow, do you want to build categorized mini communities to share with others or do you want to organize the way info passes through your account?

2. You can use lists for whatever purposes you choose. Lists are just a feature like favorites or saved searches, so if they improve your Twitter experience, go for it.

3. Lists are not a popularity contest. Sure it’s nice to be recognized by other Twitter users, especially those who are well respected, but ultimately it doesn’t matter how many lists contain your name. The quality of lists that you appear on is much more important than the quantity.

Likewise, it’s more important for your name to appear in lists that are more specific. Surely it’s better to be included in a list of the “Top 100 flash programmers” than a list of “Good People To Follow”.

But beyond that, lists are just a tool to help you get more value out of the information that passes through the Twitter platform.

4. If a great list has already been created by another user, instead of duplicating most of their effort, consider following it instead. At present, each account is limited to creating just 20 lists, so use them wisely. Aim to create value for the network by creating a list based around a new angle.

5. The most valuable public lists are medium sized. For example, if your list contains only two or three people, it would be just as quick to visit their profiles individually. Likewise, once you have more than 100-200 people on a list, it becomes much harder to keep up to date with the flow of data through the timeline.

6. When someone includes you on a list, feel free to thank them, but don’t feel obliged to reciprocate by adding them to one of your lists. The public lists that carry the most value are those that contain the best collection of users (in your opinion) based around a particular subject, rather than a list of people who have added you to one of their lists.

Why Has Twitter Created The Lists Feature?

There has been plenty of speculation about why Twitter has added this new feature, especially at the same time as it rolled out the new retweet feature. Here are the most plausible reasons;

Option 1: In response to demands from the Twitter community. Many Twitter users have been asking for a way to separate their timelines for several months.

Option 2: In response to the features provided by third party apps such as Tweetdeck. These applications have provided the ability to group the messages of the people that you follow into different categories for more than a year.

Option 3: To further enhance the data that’s generated by the Twitter community. For example, this development could be used to rank the quality of lists and in turn refine the weighting given to each user account.

This ranking could then give relevant weighting to the information contained within their posts and the retweets they make.

All this data would then be extremely useful to search engines such as Google for improving the accuracy of their real time search.

Are There Any Problems With The Lists Feature?

Here are some of the list related complaints and feature requests that people have mentioned;

1. I can’t delete my Twitter lists.

2. I can’t remove people from my list.

3. I wish I could send a post to a list only and not to my general Twitter account.

And here are three potential trends that could cause problems for the new list feature;

4. Unlike the new retweet feature, most of the Twitter community welcome the introduction of lists. However, a few people have claimed that it breaks the core concept of the platform, makes it too complex and will only amplify the problem of irrelevant noise that surrounds the core communication function of Twitter.

This could turn out to be an accurate assessment as history shows that networking sites become more complex as their popularity rises, which in turn leads to the early adopters leaving to pursue the latest trend. Will this happen to Twitter? Only time will tell.

5. Over time, the best public lists in the most popular categories will become the benchmark, so eventually as far as most people are concerned, creating their own lists of recommended people will become almost redundant. The social interaction function of lists will cease to have as much importance.

So in effect the lists feature could become nothing more than a series of private address books for users to split the flow of information through their Twitter account.

6. It’s also possible to envisage the situation where higher profile twitter users are added into hundreds or thousands of pointless lists by spammers trying to gain attention.

Under normal circumstances this isn’t too much of an irritation, but it could reach the stage where people get tired of monitoring the lists they have been added to, in order to remove themselves from any lists that could damage their reputation.

At present it’s too early to say whether this could happen, so watch this space.

However, given time these problems will be ironed out and the value of the list feature should continue to grow. Ultimately, the value of any Twitter feature is only as great as the community of users makes it.

What do you think if the new lists feature? How are you using it to improve your Twitter experience? Let us know in the comments below.

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#1 Frank Wollinger on 12.16.09 at 6:20 AM

thanks for all the information on twitter

#2 Kenney on 12.16.09 at 7:21 AM

Great information..Until this post I was completely in the dark as to what the list function was all about…I feel I understand it better now…Thanks…Kenney
Kenney´s last blog ..Daily Poem:Favorite Things My ComLuv Profile

#3 Twitter Lists - 16 Ways To Use Lists To Improve Your Twitter Experience on 12.17.09 at 11:56 AM

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#4 Francois on 12.17.09 at 9:52 PM

Nice write-up, but a bit of a joke for not mention the TweetDeck Directory of Lists — this is far the best resource for Twitter Lists. In comparison Listorious is very bad.

#5 Debby on 12.17.09 at 11:22 PM

Dear James, Peter & Stuart ~ like anything on Twitter it will continue to evolve as each new feature is used by the twitterverse. People will be innovative and find new uses or trash the original ideas that were invented to accommodate the experience.

The major problem are those who try to destroy the functionality of any system, which you have mentioned in the “problems” section of your blog. Will Twitter be able to work-around solutions?

It takes vision and persistence to see where it is all going. Thanks for a great blog on “Lists”


#6 admin on 12.18.09 at 4:27 PM

Thanks for all the comments and great feedback.

Francois - Thanks for reminding us about our oversight.

We have updated the post to include references to the Tweetdeck directoy which is rapidly becoming another great Twitter resource.

Debby - People have an endless ability to innovate in order to meet their personal needs, but, many people are also frightened of change which makes them react negatively when other people and businesses with great vision set a new course.

We hope that over time Twitter lists will overcome these minor problems and develop into another useful resouce.

All Success

Stuart Laing
Twitter Power Team

#7 Julio Ricardo Varela on 12.18.09 at 7:33 PM

This has such incredible information, that you really don’t need to go anywhere else. Nice post! Required Twitter reading.

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