Twitter Lists: Defeat from the Beak of Victory

Here we go again!

I wanted Twitter lists about five seconds after I clicked my second “follow”. My life is about categories and contexts: I follow people for different reasons, and I want to group those people and their tweets around similarities. Search and hash tags helped a little, but full-text search and uncontrolled tag vocabularies come with a host of problems–I know that all too well from my day job.  In the meantime, a Rube Goldberg of RSS feeds and multiple Twitter accounts provided some degree of order. Now Twitter’s on the eve of releasing lists, and I can’t say for sure I’ll even use them.

Twitter needs to advertise their betas better.

There’s no telling when I got the feature because I don’t use the Twitter website. It’s all about the client: Tweetie 2, Tweetie for Mac, or Google Reader. I even stopped going to the website from email notifications because they don’t have anyway to handle multiple accounts. The email may be about “A”, but I’d end up as “B” because that’s who I last logged in as. Yes, this is another case of clients having it all over web apps in terms of context and state. I hate living in a buzzword-compliant age: Web 2.0 is roughly Client 0.2 in my book.

An API is no substitute for a conceptual model.

I found the API calls for lists easily, but I never found diagrams or narratives explaining what lists are and how they work. Lists don’t appear to be very complicated at first, but it’s not just twiddling the two radio buttons and one text box on lists that creates complexity.  How things interact with lists internally and externally can create unexpected conditions and counter-intuitive behaviors. That leads me to my biggest initial gripe and likely deal-killer …

Lists do not have RSS feeds; they are a walled garden, and not in a good way.

Lists were looking pretty neat until I noticed something. Actually, I noticed the lack of something–an RSS feed icon in the address bar of Firefox. RSS lets me consume and crosspost Twitter anywhere–Google Reader, my blog, Facebook, FriendFeed. Right now lists are only available through the Twitter website, and that’s fine for a beta release (unless you’re Google). However, even when clients start supporting lists, people will still have to come to Twitter. Maybe that’s a hint that Twitter’s getting ready to monetize, or maybe that missing conceptual model contains some details that make RSS problematic.

A little more experimenting is in order …

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