Why Twitter lists are a good idea

ducksEarlier this week I was beginning to feel the Twitter burn-out as despite the obvious value in being a part of a global learning community, the site is so distracting and time-consuming - often there are just way too many excellent tips, links and amazing articles to read and as I now teach 30 contact hours a week, some of which are in blended learning classes, write ELT materials, a blog, run a blogger's group, yadda yaddda...

I came to the conclusion that twitter should only be looked at at specific times of the day and not be on all the time and it's defintely not on my phone.

The problem is that I'm followed by about 1500 people and follow around 1000 in return so filtering through the noise became a surprising issue: the stream looks very, very different from when you are following 100 - 300.

Along with the wonderful teachers I've met online, in the last 8 months or so, my stream includes random networkers, motivational speakers, the "pushing my products" people, the narcissists of whom there are so many, even in education (they call it passion) - so the question of how to effectively concentrate on those I respect without spending a whole bunch of time unfollowing people popped up.

I set up groups on Tweetdeck (probably like most of you) which was handy however kept missing the tweets by those who post outside of my timeline.

I'm about quality, not quantity, so how to work it while sticking to my Dunbar?

I found the solution!

Although most of what I've read regarding Twitter lists in the past few days has been negative, the social media experts decrying them and wondering whether or not some people will end up feeling left out if they're not listed, I think they missed the point.

The lists aren't about who follows you.

They're about who you follow.

They're an easy way of cutting through the noise to focus on specific groups of people within your niche community so you can develop better relationships with them.

My take on the PLN (Personal Learning Network), is that it is about creating valuable, personal, long lasting professional friendships not about adding long lists of random readers, numbers/followers/group-members etc, etc but instead focusing on people you expect to meet at conferences, trainers whose presentations you hope to attend, authors whose books you've read or want to read, educators whose websites and blogs you visit regularly; people you want to learn from and collaborate with, teachers to share and bounce off ideas with.

Creating Twitter Lists isn't easy!

To effectively, efficiently create your own list, I'd recommend doing what I did :

I searched my own twitter id (leaving off the @sign to see the full conversation) and also checked backtweet (good for website owners and bloggers) for those I communicate with most frequently, who chat with me back, who ReTweet my work and put these names into a spreadsheet.

I also looked at who I haven't talked to very often but whom I really wish I did.

Then decided what categories they fell into and from that created my lists:
One thing I truly like about the lists is that they aren't static in the way the tweepl lists were - so I can continue to add/subtract to these as the months and years go by.

Another feature is that you can follow the lists of other teachers - handy when someone you know comes up with a category you hadn't thought of and want to monitor also.

rubber duckI've even made a smaller, private group of "faves" so now, signing off this post and glancing at the tweets from my friends, spanning throughout the entire week, I'm newly invigorated by the potentiality of Twitter to develop as a language professional.

What have your experiences with lists been like, did you find a simple way to create your own? Do you have a tip to share?

Are you worried, like the social-media-experts, about being left off a list?

Have you hit the Twitter-burn-out and came up with a plan too?

Let me know your thoughts.


Useful links related to this posting:
ELT Guide to Twitter
The Business of Twitter

14 Responses to “Why Twitter lists are a good idea”

  • Glennie says:
    November 01, 2009

    The problem I have is that I went to the lists of a couple of people who I followed and simply decided to follow everyone that they follow.

    I now receive an enormous number of tweets, some of which are useful/interesting and some of which are definitely not.

    Part of the problem is that people often publish Tweets publicly when they should actually have published DMs. We all need to be far more disciplined about this: the entertaining 'conversation' you are having with one person is not necessarily of very much interest to other Twitter users.

    The other part of the problem is that I am not really able to keep track of who regularly tweets in a useful/interesting way, with a few exceptions. A lot of people go from the sublime to the ridiculous and back to the sublime, and I don't see how I will ever get to be able to sort them out as there are so many!

    (30 hours Karenne! No wonder you get stressed out at times. Be careful of burn out. I'd rather you did less tweeting and still have you around in the future than have you turn into a TEFL supernova. :->

  • Glennie says:
    November 01, 2009


    What's the difference between making a list in Twitter and creating a group in Tweetdeck?

    November 01, 2009

    Hi Glennie

    Well, I truly hope I don't actually become a TEFL supernova: in reality I like an easy and quiet life hiding behind my computer, the bloggin's for fun.

    Sorry about the terrible tweets at times - note to self: do not tweet when fed up by type A gorilla-in-the-jungle behavior -LOL. I wonder if "they'll" see that (sorry, boys, it's a joke and you're in my twists anyway).

    And I agree with you, Glennie, although only in part about the DM conversations as sometimes am highly amused by the random conversations about clothes or whatnot (which is part of the reason for being on twitter - for the laugh) and by even at times, by the arguments!

    Keeping track of the useful tweets - pah, got no idea, I agree: sublime-ridiculous-sublime, honestly, I do think the twists will help with that!

    The difference between groups on Tweetdeck versus Tw-lists:

    I'm not sure what your deck looks like or how people you've got in your groups so am not sure what you get to see everyday.

    In my groups , given that some are larger than others, there are only a certain number of tweets available for viewing - sometimes, say a whole bunch of people are all tweeting at 'x'time on a Wednesday, in Europe, then the people in Japan or the people in South America completely disappear from this stream... and so with time, each day, I then find myself falling-out-of-touch with (and no longer RTng the work of) some of my absolute favorite people globally... which then makes me feel like I'm being a bad friend and/or a bad Ning Mistress (Ning is the site I run the bloggers' group on).

    Hope that helps!


  • Nick Jaworski says:
    November 01, 2009

    The number of people I follow on Twitter is still under 100. Perhaps I'm not following enough people, but I love my list at the moment. I'm only following people that tweet lots of good stuff. Generally, if someone follows me or if I hear of a good tweeter I pull up their last 20 tweets. If I think their tweets are good I follow them. If they are simply general conversation tweets or lots of random stuff, I won't follow them. This keeps my list down and increases the information value of the tweets I do see although I admit I only check Twitter maybe 3 times a day, so I can still miss a lot.

    The lists seem like a useful idea if things become unmanageable though.

  • emapey says:
    November 01, 2009

    You wrote: "I'm about quality, not quantity, so how to work it while sticking to my Dunbar?"

    Why do you follow so many people if you know about the Dunbar Number (quality over quantity)?

    I think that Twitter lists can be useful for those who read tweets from the web and are following 200+ users. But you already have groups available in TweetDeck

    You don't want your name to be associated with a list you don't like

    November 01, 2009

    That's a very good question emapey, - when I first got on to twitter the rule written everywhere was "follow those who follow you" so I did.

    It's only with experience (and learning about Dunbar, tweeted to me by Scott Thornbury) and also reading Seth Godin's recent rants about twitter that I learned the difference.

    Honestly, the numbers just kind of crept up on me - trust me when I say that I didn't expect this, or the confusion it would cause ;-).

    Also, how do you decide right off the bat, who is going to be a good tweeter and who not - I take your point, Nick, but some of the people I thought I wouldn't enjoy following (that day they were only tweeting about nonsense) have really turned into intimate friends.

    I don't think a person be too quick to judge who should be in their PLN and who not. Especially as so many newcomers join Twitter.

    I think it's much better to work this out over time or you can end up only following "VIP" types and then miss out on real, long-lasting friendships (even with some of VIP types ;-))!


  • Ana Ray says:
    November 01, 2009

    How do you transfer the names of the people from the spreadsheet on to a list? I don't get it.

    November 01, 2009

    Hi Ana,

    Yes, sorry - from the twitter page, right click over the person's name then scroll down to "copy link location" paste that into the spreadsheet.

    Once you've organized your list into categories, click on the links and then add them.

    If you're not using categories, say just creating one list, then instead of taking it to a spreadsheet, take the url (link) and paste in a new window.

    Hope that helps, thanks for your question.


  • The TEFL Tradesman says:
    November 02, 2009

    I'm still in the dark about twitter, but I don't really feel that my quality of life is suffering because of it.

    Meanwhile, in an effort at a free bit of shameless publicity, Karenne, your UK readers might like to trip over to my blog and vote on this: "NOVEMBER POLL: Whose interests do the British Council and English UK serve via their accreditation processes?"

    I'm hoping for a big turnout on this one, chaps!

  • Our Enchanted Garden says:
    November 02, 2009

    I think lists are great, I like being able to break things up into categories, Friends, news, twitter stuff, Local and Global and specific topics of interest...
    I can put a person in two or more lists if it seems appropriate. I can make my lists public or private.
    I could care less about the numbers and certainly won't be concerned if I'm never listed!
    I would hate to be on the "Not Recommended" list though!
    Thanks for a good post on the topic! Obviously, I agree, I do believe it is a tool for me!

  • vicki says:
    November 04, 2009

    Karenne, I want to thank you for introducing me to Twitter via this blog. It has led me to some fantastic links and resources that I would never have discovered otherwise.
    But I also want to curse you for that advice about following people back. It gets so unmanagable and
    I think we should both do some pruning. I'll be following you though. :-)

  • Marisa says:
    November 04, 2009

    Hi, Karenne,

    I couldn't agree with you more! I felt Twitter was getting out of control and, like you, with so many responsibilities, I felt I was missing a lot. Many times I spent hours without checking tweets and when I did I couldn't go back.
    Thanks for sharing this insightful blog.
    Regards from Argentina,

  • Anonymous says:
    November 04, 2009

    It will prove to be a boon to organize followers into various categories. it is not easy to keep tab with large number of followers. And this list feature will lessen the hassle. Twitter needs to evolve more to embrace various features of other social networking sites. Of late twitter has become the victim of hacking and twitter need to secure the accounts of its users.

    Anyway, better late than never and the List feature that is in the twitdeck as Group is a welcome change and in days to come this will be love by all. Regrettably, it is not user friendly though made for users.

    let's cross fingers and hope for better.


  • Bill Montana says:
    November 25, 2009


    Ironically, I came across this post while building twists. I only have 461 followers, but it has gotten to be too much to handle. I'm clicking on each person's page, reading their bio, and navigating to their blog (if they have one). It's a time-consuming process, but I have a better idea how to organize them.

    I think twists will become better than TweetDeck groups because they will be accessible through the API, making it possible for Twitter clients to access them. With TweetDeck (TD), groups are only visible from within TD. That's bad because they cannot be accessed from other apps. I use TD on my Mac and Tweetie on my iPhone.

    Thanks for a great post. I added you to my blogroll today.

    Bill (@bmontana)


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