Twitter Lists: Coolness or Ease of Categorization?

by cv harquail on October 30, 2009

Rethink the conventional ‘meaning’ of Twitter Lists.

Now that Twitter lists have been rolled out more broadly, it’s possible for many/most of us using Twitter to create lists of those whom we follow (great– easier than Tweetdeck!). It is now also possible for us to see which Twitter lists how many Twitter lists we’ve been put on by others.


This second feature– seeing where how often *you* are listed, has immediately become the new twitter high.

But it is downright disturbing to imagine that “the number of twitter lists you are on” has “become a new barometer of cool” (via @chrisheuer). Sure, we all want to be cool, but being on a lot of lists (or not) doesn’t tell us whether we’re cool– it just tells us that for some of the folks who list us, we’re tucked into a category of other Tweeters quite like us. Consider:

Being on many Twitter Lists is NOT “a barometer of cool” — it’s a measure of ease of Categorization.

Easy to categorize => Similar to others => Easy to ‘list’

If many people you follow are the same kind of voice, have the same domain of expertise, or are from the same circle, it will be easy and useful to cluster them together on a list.

However, not every person you follow is similar enough to other people you follow to warrant their being placed on one of your Twitter lists. For example, @ikepigott is one of the only ‘free market’ advocates I follow, so I’m not putting him on a list. Does that mean he is unimportant? Uncool? No– it just means he doesn’t fit in a category that is ‘big enough’ for me to list.

Similarly, I follow @CaliYost— but what list will I put her on? Work-Life Fit experts? (sure) Tween parenting advisers? (okay) Women Business Owners? (fine) Inspiring people on Twitter? (that too). So, whatamIgonna have? @CaliYost on 4 different lists? She’s hard to put into just one category, and having her on many lists seems neither efficient nor necessary.

Just because you are categorizable to some people doesn’t mean you are more valuable, or less valuable. It just means that it makes sense to group you with other people. And that is fine, but it is not a measure of ‘cool’.

In fact, it may be that NOT being on a lot of lists is also a measure…. a measure of your uniqueness.

I only follow ONE @Heartfeldt. She’s the only feminist/leader/author/grow-up-to-be-like-her friend I have (though, someday, I hope there will be more leaders of her ilk on Twitter).

Likewise, I only follow ONE @Bob_Bruner. He’s the only colleague/finance professor/dean/person-with-William-Blake-quote-on-office-wall that I follow (though, I wish there were more finance professors like him).

What if you are the only person like you that other people follow?

What if you are not on a lot of lists, and yet you have followers?

That, dear twerpson, means that you are unique. You are providing a special voice. Your tweets stand out, because you cannot be easily categorized.

To me, that uniqueness is what’s “cool”.

Related Posts:

Is Twitter is Really Changing Comcast’s Culture?: 7 Signs to Look For
Tweet Yourself Like The Person You Want To Be
Don’t Let Personal Branding Stifle Your Authentic Voice

Image: Seeds of Summer by Daz Smith on Flickr


Alex, aka SocialButterfly October 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Agreed. People are quick to jump and say this is a measure of influence…but I think it’s more a matter of categorization like you said. Now–depending on how you name a list and the names of lists you are on, then that could have an effect. But I think lists give more of a qualitative insight into someone’s impact rather than an added quantitative benchmark of impact.
.-= Alex, aka SocialButterfly´s last blog ..Where Have All the Social Products Gone? =-.

Kim Claudio October 30, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I love the new feature I actually just made a twitter account yesterday and its worth it. Good for your business and for any other things you would want people to catch up on. If they are following you cool and congrats to twitter.

cv October 30, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Thanks so much for that great insight– the real ‘data’ is qualitative. It’s about what kind of impact you have, how your tweets are seen, received and used. It would be far better to be on one person’s list of “tweeple that challenge my thinking” than on 10 lists of “business tweeple”.
Of course, either of those is better than being on the list of ‘boring tweets I have to follow just in case.’

Tim Walker October 30, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Well said, CV. Twitter listing is also subject to the same phenomenon that affects some topics on Wikipedia: completeness as a function not of a consensus view of importance, but of one author’s or a small group’s thoroughness (or obsession) with writing on the topic. In other words, a maniacal listmaker *might* list @CaliYost on 4 lists — or 40 — which wouldn’t, in itself, make Cali more or less valuable than if she were listed on 3 lists by 3 different people.

(Thanks for pointing to Cali, by the way — I’m following her now.)
.-= Tim Walker´s last blog ..Web site testing and optimization platforms — an incomplete list. =-.

cv October 31, 2009 at 9:44 am

Hey Tim-
Good point tool that whether you’re on a list says as much about the listmaker(s) as it does about the folks who’ve been listed! Right now there’s a lot of interest in lists b/c they are the latest bso, and we want to figure out how to use them… but it remains to be seen whether folks keep up with listing, how lists get used, how lists become useful, and so on.
It is really intriguing to me (and to Rachel Happe) to consider what lists can tell us as a new form of network data. Tentatively, I’m calling it ‘listonomy’ (like ‘folksonomy’) It’s a whole new network construct… since we can now connect to each other thru lists (clusters of people) rather than 1:1. Thank goodness I dont’ need a dissertation topic. 🙂
And Tim, I see you caught on to my secret plan…. I want to get more people to follow Cali, and @Heartfeldt, and @Bob_Bruner…..

neagaoleg November 1, 2009 at 8:32 pm

if you’re cool I think it’s normal to be followed by many people, the same thing is with lists, many would like to put up you on their own lists, i don’t see any inconsistency here

David Zinger November 3, 2009 at 10:39 am


Well done about listing. I just want to be on Santa’s list.

It is not so good when a ship begins to list.

I am not using listing much right now, need to sort it through. Thank you for bringing words to something I was pondering.

.-= David Zinger´s last blog ..Social Media and Employee Engagement =-.

cv November 3, 2009 at 10:59 am

Hi David!
I’m realizing there is *so* much to the listing phenomenon that we need to think about, critically and proactively, to make lists useful and to have them support our larger purpose(s). I fond this post on Twitip by @jadecraven: Twitter Lists In Detail or, “Yo Dawg, I Heard U Like Lists!” which along with Brian Solis’ writing summarizes important list-related insights. cv

Comments on this entry are closed.