Like many of you, I use Twitter to help get the word out on things I’m writing about or things I find interesting. The problem is that I have lots of different interests and not everyone who follows me on Twitter cares about all those interests.
Some people care about sustainability, but not social networks. Some care about CRM but not democracy. When I go on a big tweet fest on democracy for a few days, my CRM-loving followers may start to wonder whether following me was such a great idea – and may even unfollow me as a result. Then, a week goes by and I’m tweeting some interesting stuff on CRM that they then miss.
Sigh….Sound familiar to you? Do my fellow tweeters out there suffer from the same ailment?
There are workarounds, of course. You can set up different Twitter accounts for yourself – one for each of your interest areas. Lots of people do this, but that means they have a bunch of fragmented lists of followers. It’s an inelegant approach to a problem that bloggers have already solved by tagging their posts with different categories rather than setting up separate blogs for each of their interest areas.
In late 2009, Twitter first introduced the list feature, which is an enormously useful way to follow specific interest areas. I use it a lot and other people do too.
What I want to be able to do is tweet out to each of my Twitter lists. I want people to have the choice of following me and getting all my tweets, or just following my lists and getting a subset of my tweets that map to that list. When I tweet through the Twitter UI, it might look something like today’s “Tweet Location” drop down:
If I were to tweet this way and tag it with my @gideonro/engager list, the only people who would see it would be the people subscribed to that particular list. The rest of my followers would not – and that’s a key distinction between this idea and simply including the name of a list in my post . When you just include the name of a list in a post it does post that tweet to the list – but it also goes to all your followers who aren’t following that list as well – and that’s the same problem of my CRM followers not want to see my posts on sustainability or democracy.
Twitter is a micro-blogging service and this kind of “Tweet-to-List” feature would bring it closer to the kinds of categories you see in most blogging tools. Following a list would be equivalent to subscribing to an RSS category feed in a blog – but a lot more powerful.
When it comes to managing my own lists, I’d have a handful of options:
- Reserve my lists purely for my own tweets, so that people could just subscribe to a subset of my tweets on a particular topic.
- Use a list for my own tweets and the tweets of other Twitter users with similar interests.
- Use a list for my own tweets and the lists of other Twitter users who are also using lists to tag and differentiate their tweets.
This last option presents some very interesting opportunities to mix and match feeds from people, and to really fine tune the information I’m getting on Twitter in ways that make the service much more useful over time.
I just looked around a bit, and I’m not the first person to see this problem or to suggest solutions. I’ll also admit that there may be unforeseen problems from doing something like this and that I have no idea how hard of a technical challenge something like this would be for Twitter. I’ve worked on enough technology projects to know that sometimes what seems hard is easy and that what seems easy can actually be darn hard.
With those caveats, I think it’s time for Twitter to look at an approach like this as a way to help its users gain a little more control over Twitter’s massive flows of “real-time information.” So, if you agree and you’re interested in an approach like this getting implemented, let the folks at Twitter know by tweeting this post to @feedback and giving it the #tweet2list hashtag.
April 25, 2011 Postscript:
Facebook just announced a “Send” Button that accomplishes essentially what I’m talking about here – but on Facebook. I’m not sure that this “Tweet-to-List” approach is the right way to do this, but this new Facebook functionality is going to be very important, I predict. Twitter will ignore it at its peril.
May 29, 20011 Postscript:
My friend Richard Sprague pointed me to a post by Paul Irish with a bit more details on how the @reply works on Twitter. I had not realized replying in Twitter limits whose streams get your replies. The only people who see them are people following you and the person you’re replying to. Now, if only I could just reply to a list!
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Twitter is not a social network. It’s a “real-time information network” and once you see it that way, its competitive edges look a lot closer to Google than Facebook. Facebook is a social network utility, while Twitter is a social network application with real-time information as its end goal.
“Information networker” describes a group of people whose work centers on creating and connecting information. Today the lines between information creation and distribution have blurred. Twitter is a social network application used by information networkers to distribute ideas and build their influence online, which, in the process, builds a very valuable real time information network that’s used by a much larger pool of people.
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