The Tao of Twitter lists

Tao is an ancient Chinese philosophy that influenced Zen a Japanese lifestyle practice. I named my post like this because I felt that those ideas and guidelines will let you regain a Zen-like practice of Twitter and social media. To master something and reach zen-itude we need to understand the forces and concepts underneath and how they interact like yin and yang. On social media marketing and learning are the opposed forces. We have to use both for what they are good at and use one against the other to protect our time and attention. Just realized there is a Tao of Twitter. I’ll check for you.

Why lists are good for you?

If you used Twitter over a few days you noticed that the more you follow, the larger your feed becomes and the harder it is to listen to thoughtful individuals.

To be noticed and grow your audience on Twitter, you have to post continuously. Gaining attention leads to become more visible by the virtues of retweets, likes and followers count. It’s free and easy to keep posting: In your queue, post a nice picture, an interesting infographic, curate a few posts, post one of your productions and it’s done.

If your goal on Twitter is to stay informed, learn and occasionally chat with tweeps (people you met on Twitter), tuning on your Twitter homepage is not the way to go. Automated posts and timeless items shares dominate it. Instead of having the feeling you used your time well, you get distracted for 30’. You are left with a frustration feeling and a bit of guilt of having lost time much needed for other purposes. Yet you have the urging temptation to try again until you get better at it. It won’t work. Thousands of people are continuously designing strategies and algorithms to grab your attention. Hundreds of thousands are using them to trick you in with attractive content. Time and attention are your limited resource.

It takes about 5 seconds to read a tweet and make sense of it. Nice picture are like magnets and draw our attention, the more so if they are animated. It’s human nature to be drawn by colors, novelty and moves. It goes back to our hunters-gatherers root, 10 000 years before Twitter. We have to force ourselves to be careful at the other tweets.

12 tweets are a minute (your mileage may vary), 2 pages of tweets are 5 minutes. You can be faster but you will ultimately be slow down when you click a link. With an average of 4 tweets per day and per person, it takes 30’ per day to follow 100 people. As soon as you follow more than 100 people you will either loose stuff or spend more time. Welcome to the dilemma.

What are lists?

Lists are selections of users carefully designed to fit a topic, an intention or a scheduled usage. The later are typically personal while the firsts are aimed at being shared.
Lists are like secondary friends lists. You view a list exactly like you tune on your homepage, there is a lick for each list. Instead of being the complete friends list, it’s a selection of it and may include people you don’t follow.

Lists based on a topic

This is the first idea for most of us. Let’s start a list around a topic, a geographical region around me. Great idea, please proceed. Kneaver has a great tool to grab handles from web pages and turn them into lists. So you could just visit sites, collect handles, place them there and click ok. Job done.

50 members is the sweet size of such a list. Beyond 50, it’s hard to remember who is in or not. Larger lists lead to a stream of tweets hard to consume in less than 15 minutes. Besides having a limited list obliges you to continuously curate it and make it better and better. sharpen the saw they say. Should you discover a new area of interest, add a new list instead of growing the original one and loosing specificity.
Such lists are not personal and are good candidate to become public lists you share. Kneaver Open Twitter chat as a Twitter lists directory service to let you share your best lists.

Lists based on intention

Intention is the second great motivation of categorization. Now we use a big word of Knowledge Management and neuro-cognitive psychology. It’s just the tendency we have in our brains to gather things which are similar (what we did with topic lists) or with a common intention.
I have a list called “Positive Tweeps”. It serves the purpose to deliver good thoughts, inspiring words and smiles. It is the first list I watch when I start my day, the one I check when I have 2 minutes. None of them ever engage in rants, they don’t tweet more than 10 times a day, they share a unique view. My intention behind this list is to be pumped for the day, filled with fresh ideas. It serves its roles in my energy cycle of the day. Tweets span across several topics.
I have a list called “Curators”. Those are heavy workers, they tweet continuously on whatever they dig. They are specialized in topics I’m also interested in. I know they tweet a lot and they bring things worth my attention. If I have a big mug of tea in my hand, 15’ in front of me, I’ll dive in their treasures. I don’t care there are a lot of tweets because I’m ready for it and wanting to take new ideas. I feel like they worked for me. I thank them by retweeting pearls, and pointing them to my findings when I know it fits into their guidelines.

Lists based on schedules

Now we reach the 3rd level of the Tao. High performers know that time is a scarce resource. In fact what is hard is to have long time of concentration at a high energy time and be carried by the flow. The flow can be seen as a particularly favorable mood that fills us with content, motivation, and desire to get things done. We let go with what is withholding us: shyness, anxiety, stress, and do. Writers write, coders code, painters paint for hours. Getting out from the flow is not easy. It comes when we hit difficulties, external interruption or hunger. The hardest part is to get into it and Twitter across the way.

  • If we take too much time of Twitter, we miss energy cycles and tend to exhaust our high energy levels in attention and cognitive context switches.
  • If we don’t check Twitter every hour, we miss it. Somewhere in our brain we crave for the novelties and rewards delivered from our feed.
  • If we don’t check Twitter we may even miss something interesting. FOMO! A very interesting link shared by X, a new post of Y, a great impromptu conversation between Z and T. It never happened before that those great though leaders share their half-baked views on this topic.

Lists based on schedules are there to fit this need.
They are done to be a column on TweetDeck or on a page with another column for mentions. Mentions are people explicitly referencing us. This can’t be turned into a list.
List based on schedules are selection of tweeps for each time of day or week.
I have a list for week-end when I want to keep a maximum of time for me. I called it “core”. You won’t find any influencer there but near friends and people I want to hear from regularly. I computed the volume of tweets and keep it below 100 per day: 8 minutes per day. I watch every now and then which means easily 8 times a day. 8 times x 1 minute is acceptable. The more so that it eases my fear of not being beware of what’s going on. They will surely share a status if something important happens (like events in Paris), an interesting conversation going on.

I have a second list for larger period of time that will include some heavy tweeters. I know I will never read it all but I count on the echo chamber to get ripples if some breaking contribution is shared. Occasionally I will read it in detail for a few days back.

I’ve seen tweeps with more scheduled based lists. A list for every week, a list for every two weeks. It’s OK if you are very disciplined or have an app like Kneaver which keeps the last time you checked each lists. After one week, the volume and noise will cause more distractions and loss of relevant tweets. Twitter is about immediacy, a benefit lost after a week. Interesting news will already have surfaced again via roundup posts, replies, ripples. It’s very likely you will be pointed to read something you already read from someone else under another title. Think of the “Apple vs FBI” story to get an idea.

Combining lists

Now that we understand that we will really watch scheduled based lists and intention based lists. I call them working lists. We also realize that we need tools to incorporate, mashup thematic lists into ours. This is where Kneaver Lists Designer comes into play. With it, we subscribe to the lists we are interested in, share ours and combine them into working lists. When a topic list if changed, we see it and we can decide if we incorporate the changes or not. We end up following only and handful of lists, specially honed for us, our time plans, our life. We can stop being forced fed news all day long 🙂

Extra needs not well fit by lists

  • Collect systematically all links shared and create like a crowd-curated list of interesting pointers. If it’s automated like in Kneaver, short URLs resolved, it takes not time and can be searched when I need them, instead of queued and checked on a regular basis.
  • For low attention modes, it would be nice to have a window showing only tweets wich benefits immediacy. Scheduled posts, retweets of old tweets, sharing links of pieces more than a few days old don’t fit in this rule. Using such a filter would reduce the attention requirement to a strict minimum. If the stream is combined with a mention feed, it could be checked in blink, almost effortless. I’m working on that.

Why I still follow tweeps?

Once a week, I will tune on my general timeline and see what’s going on. This allows me to spot interesting tweeps, new candidates for my lists. This means that people I only follow have a chance of 5% to get their production under my eyes. I’m sad of this but I’m a doer, not a though leader and I need to dedicate time to my coding work. This means also that I never made the effort to sort everyone in lists. My following lists serves as my miscellaneous list.

As you may understand now, lists offers everything you main friends list offers. Why bother continue to follow? The UX of Twitter is streamlined around following people. Right after you subscribe to the service, you are offered to follow some celebrities. The follow button is shown everywhere pro-eminently. Twitter will continue to place the follow button below you finger and place the lists design as far as possible. So new users will continue to follow you and turn to lists only later when they become mature in their usage like you today.

When you follow someone you show your interest in what they have to say. It’s a mark of appreciation they understand because they did it too. It’s an encouragement to have a say on Twitter. It’s likely to start timidly and any welcoming sign is heartily felt. You will be remembered and likely followed in turned.

Following is also easy, available everywhere (on Twitter but also on web sites, blogs, mailing lists). It’s never more than a click away. Why not using it? If you have a way to regularly move people into lists and avoid your friends list to be cluttered, it becomes like a buffer. To make it easy, Kneaver Lists Designer as a special feature to selectively move recent followers to lists.

I would unfollow people if there is not reciprocity, if they never engage in conversations (a one way behavior) or if they keep sharing rants. Negativity and hostility don’t have their place on my feed. It’s a common automated growth practice to drag attention of tweeps by following them, get a follow back and unfollow a week after. You end following people just by being nice to them. Kneaver allows you to keep the context why you followed people and will show you people who unfollowed you as a tactic. It will show how long they followed you, how many times they did the trick. Another strategy more stealth is to favorite your tweets to excite your curiosity. You want to know who shown interest in your work, you looked at the profile and gave attention. Job done.

Following can start with a short period to explore each others production. Some people will list you asap and unfollow you. It’s not a sign of disinterest but a search for a maximum of efficiency. They will be spot as having a lot more followers than friends and many lists. They could even have zero followers is they are part of the #NoFollow movement. I have a special list for them.

Hashtags versus Lists

Hashtags can be defined as slices of the feed around a topic identified by this hashtag. It can be synchronous when there is a Twitter chat in which case suddenly the volume of tweets on this hashtag increase and conversations take place. Using a hashtag outside of its meaning and purpose is perfectly legit but spammy.

Designing smart lists is one of the features of Kneaver A system to let you grow and use your knowledge while keeping your time under control. Be informed, not influenced.
What is your take on lists? Did you ever write on this topic? Let me know you views with a comment below!