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Using Twitter Lists

birdI don’t know whether it’s a symptom of the mid-semester crunch, or a social media version of cleaning out one’s closet for spring, but over the last couple of weeks, several people in my tweetstream have mentioned that they are feeling overwhelmed by how many people they are following. Several have started culling their lists and issuing general apologies for any hurt feelings caused by unfollowing.

Now, I’m all for clearing clutter and sometimes trimming your social media lists on Twitter, Facebook, or other sites is a good idea, particularly if your usage of these services has changed over time. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed but don’t want to unfollow anybody, you can use Twitter’s built-in list feature to help you manage an unwieldy number of tweets. Lists can also help you deepen your areas of interest so that Twitter remains fresh and engaging.

How did I get here?

When you first started using Twitter, you probably started out by following the accounts of a few people you knew, either in real life or by reputation. Maybe a few people in your fields of interest; maybe a few people at your current or previous institutions; maybe even a few famous people in politics, journalism, or entertainment.

Then someone followed you, so you followed them back. And the same for someone else. And someone else. And eventually then you wind up with hundreds or thousands of accounts in your tweetstream.

(If you’re not currently a Twitter user, then I recommend Ryan’s How to Start Tweeting and Why You Might Want To.)

How Twitter Lists Work

Like most features of Twitter, lists are easy to create and use. You can create lists and add users to them from the Twitter web interface as well as from within many Twitter clients. Lists can be public or private. Public lists are viewable by anyone and private lists are just for your eyes.

Streamline Your Reading

Most users of Twitter don’t attempt or pretend to keep up with every tweet from every person who they follow. Twitter is about dipping in to the information stream. Using lists can help you quickly scan your tweetstream for items of interest to you. You might consider dividing the accounts you follow by topic, type of account (individuals vs businesses), or region (Twitter users in different time zones tend to be active at different hours). You might, for instance, create one list for professional contacts and another for your favorite magazines and news sites.

Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic allow you to display tweets from different lists in columns, so you can quickly get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. Even though several new clients have been created since Julie Meloni wrote about Using Twitter Clients to Manage Your Information Stream, her post gives a good overview of features to look for in choosing a Twitter client.

Deepen Your Reading

Public lists created by others can be a great way to discover people you’d like to follow. See, for example, this public list I created of ProfHacker writers (except me, since you can’t put yourself on a list you create) or Dan Cohen’s list of scholars in digital humanities.

How do you use Twitter lists? let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user mikebaird]

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