I Wouldn’t Want to Belong to Any Twitter List That Would Have Me as a Member

    by Ryan Sholin
    November 6, 2009

    Networks are funny. As soon as they get big enough to have a lot of value, it gets harder to separate the signal from the noise.

    That’s obvious enough — just ask anyone using AT&T in an area densely populated with bandwidth-hogging iPhone users like me.

    Or ask any Twitter user.


    But with the launch of Twitter Lists in recent days, it’s now theoretically easier for users, news organizations, bloggers, and companies to create little tributaries off the main river of news. Bu building these subsets out of the main stream, you can find tweets from a group of users, which means a news organization can create a list of reliable sources.

    And in theory, this has value, because the list of users has been hand-picked by journalists.

    But what happens when everyone makes lists that look the same, full of the same sources?


    I started thinking about this because I now find myself on 179 lists. Of those, the titles of 123 include some form of the words “media” or “journalism.” That’s 123 lists with a lot of overlap.

    The same idea ran me down yesterday as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Huffington Post, among others, made Twitter lists related to the shootings in Fort Hood, Texas. (And as I write this, they’re all doing it again in Orlando.)

    The Fort Hood Lists

    There are differences between these lists, but there are also a lot of similarities, as you can see here:


    (Click on the image to see the large version. Those lists are from the LAT, NYT, and HuffPo, left to right.)

    Now, while they’re not identical, there’s strong overlap in the type of sources in the first two examples. They’re all experts. News organizations. Government. The Red Cross. And, inexplicably, Chuck Todd

    Meanwhile, on the far right, is my favorite list — the Huffington Post’s “Fort Hood Locals.” It contains the sort of tweets I was spotting in this search yesterday while I was tracking the story and wondering how many primary sources I could find on Twitter.

    Personally, I prefer curating individual tweets, rather than pointing a fire hose of information at the reader. But everyone is experimenting at the moment, and there’s nothing like breaking news to get people like me excited about their shiny new toys. As we should be. I just worry that we’re going to end up tripping over each other instead of working with each other.

    Two Other Takes on Fort Hood Twitter List Efforts:

    I encourage you to read two other stories about the Fort Hood Twitter Lists. The first is
    Fort Hood Shooting Shows How Twitter, Lists Can be Used for Breaking News” at Poynter. Craig Kanalley’s round-up of Twitter use on the Fort Hood story covers the Austin American Statesman’s choice to launch a one-story Twitter account, as well as the New York Times list efforts.

    The other story is “Fort Hood: A First Test for Twitter Lists” at Columbia Journalism Review. Megan Garber takes a look at Twitter List use by the media for the Fort Hood story. She has this take on the overlap in mainstream lists:

    “Yes, there was overlap and redundancy in yesterday’s coverage — the “Fort Hood” lists all generally contained the same local news outlets, the same official sources, etc. — but, then, that’s the case whenever different media outlets cover the same events.”

    I think there’s a problem with that. I don’t want to see Twitter Lists become a piece of commodity news.

    But I do want to keep chasing after shiny toys…

    (Bonus link: Andy Carvin of NPR did a similar bit of navel-gazing and list-counting in this post at All Tech Considered.)

    Tagged: social networks twitter twitter lists

    One response to “I Wouldn’t Want to Belong to Any Twitter List That Would Have Me as a Member”

    1. Stowe Boyd has a refreshing and more practical approach to Twitter Lists. They’re probably more valuable if you focus on how they’re useful for you first.

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