Twitter Lists are the latest popularity contest

Last week, we all got the long-awaited Lists functionality added to our Twitter accounts. If you’re that one person who isn’t on Twitter yet, this is the ability to sort your followers into segmented lists. It’s a wonderful addition. Before, I had 1600 or so people I was following, but no easy way to see what they were saying. Now I can gather them up with all the other people who say similarly interesting things into one place.

If I know a handful of knowledgeable SEOs, they get their own list. Then there’s another list of local contacts I like keeping in touch with. A third for co-workers, a fourth for high school friends… instead of just lumping them all into the admittedly daunting river of posts that the Twitter front page gives, I drill down to just the people I want to read.

What’s funny about all this is that now profiles have collections of the lists a person is a part of. This must be embarrassing for the users who spent all their time following people to get followed. You see them often enough, usually in your inbox: Users who only post links to their blogs, a profile describing the SEO/web design/multi-level marketing business they run… and somehow, 10,000 or more followers.

All those followers aren’t really interested in what these people have to say, they simply followed these titans of industry to get them to follow back. It’s the catch-and-release ecosystem of Twitter that gets many people a lot more followers than they deserve.

Now that lists have been thrown into the mix, you can see right on their profile what the value of their follow count is. If someone has 10,000 followers now, and they’re on a dis-proportionally low number of lists, you know the majority of the people following them doesn’t really care what they post.

For instance, let’s look at this Emmy Award winner:

Twitter Lists #1

Here we have someone with over 10,000 followers. Hooray. Still, only 16 people have seen fit to add them to a list of people they want to read often.

On the other hand, here’s the follow count for my hero, Loren Feldman of 1938Media:

TwitterList #2

Here we see a profile that has almost 10,000 followers, but is part of 208 lists. So there is a larger percentage of his followers that want to be sure they get a direct line to what Loren is posting about.

What’s the difference? Well, profile #1 is full of vague, corny and useless posts about following dreams, and quotes from Kahlil Gibran, and links to help you, “make millions of $ now!” Who needs to read that?

On the other hand, Loren is hilarious. He does some of the best Internet media satire puppetry.  He does the only Internet media satire puppetry. He also posts often, and even replies to other twits. In short, he’s a fun and entertaining resource. He’s someone people would want to follow on their own, without having to be lured in with gaming. If you look at the short list of people he’s following himself, you can see he doesn’t have to do much else to get people to follow him.

So now when you get a notification that someone has followed you, you have a better gauge on whether or not to bother returning the favor. If it’s someone posting crap, you’ll be able to tell by the low number of people trying to make sure they stay on top of their posts with a list. If it’s someone worth reading, a lot of other people agree, and that person is on a long number of lists themselves.

But people are smart, and I have no doubt this will only add a new level to gaming follow counts. In a few weeks people will start creating lists and adding their people to it, in the hopes that the people they add will return the favor, just like they did before. It’s silly.

All that work just so you can say you have a bunch of people occasionally clicking on a link to your get-rich-quick-scheme content page? If that really works, I guess the real problem isn’t them, but the suckers rumored to be born every minute.

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