Review: "open" Listorious vs. "closed" new Twitter suggestion list

Twitter today turned off its suggested user list and turned on a new “suggestions” list which includes a nice improvement. The Twitter team explains the changes in a blog post.

The old SUL had four problems:

1. It wasn’t transparent. We didn’t know how it was made and there wasn’t any official way to suggest people for the list.
2. It wasn’t open. For instance, Louis Gray isn’t on the list (either the old one or the new one) and I think he should be on. He isn’t the only one, there are hundreds of tech influencers that I think are worthy of anyone interested in tech to follow and I have a list of 233 of them. Twitter’s new tech list only has 57 people on it.
3. It wasn’t complete. It’s very easy to browse any technology list over on Listorious and compare who is on those lists to Twitter’s own list to see that Twitter’s list only has a small fraction of the people and brands you might want to follow if you were interested in tech.
4. It gifted un-engaged users to people because it was on by default during the setup process. Anil Dash wrote a great post about why that sucked (he was on the list and got hundreds of thousands of followers who didn’t really engage with him). In short, it sucked because people who got on Twitter to listen to celebrities would also follow the geeks because they were added by default. This made Twitter less interesting for newbies because they were seeing people and brands they really didn’t care about.

Today Twitter only fixed point #4. This is a dramatic improvement, yes, but now we see the other problems with the list, especially now that we have Listorious to compare it to (which was made possible by another one of Twitter’s new features, called lists).

So, let’s compare the new Twitter list to a third-party service that I use a lot, Listorious:

Listorious = Open. Twitter = Closed. What do I mean by that? On Listorious if someone is a jerk and leaves you off of a list, just start your own list. You can participate. You can add. And you’ll be treated fairly by the system. If you’re popular, you’ll be listed first but there isn’t any favoritism like what Twitter exhibits with its own directory.

Listorious = Transparent. Twitter = Opaque. What do I mean by that? On Listorious you know who created every list and you can write to them. You know how each list is produced and can figure it out. Most lists are human curated, but some, like the top 50 tech list done by Favstar are curated by algorithms. Now, quick, tell me who created the Twitter list? How did they chose those people and companies? You can’t definitively say either.

Listorious = Complete. Twitter = Incomplete. Look through Listorious’ directories. You’ll see many times more lists on many esoteric subjects when compared with Twitter’s 20 lists. Why is this important? Because if you are looking for information on very specific topics, like, say, you are a Cricket fan. What’s your choice on Twitter? The sports list. What’s your choice on Listorious? Search for Cricket and get dozens of lists back.

Why does this matter? It’s shocking to me that Twitter is still not putting its best foot forward with new users.

Twitter’s growth has slowed and I believe a major reason is because new users aren’t figuring out anything useful to do with Twitter. They aren’t being shown enough other members with interests that match their own!

I’ve talked with normal people about why that is. Over and over they tell me that they can’t find anything interesting to watch on Twitter.

This is a damn shame, because if you just spend a few minutes looking through the lists on Listorious you’ll find something that is very interesting to you personally. But on Twitter? They are still showing a list that’s not open, not transparent, and not complete.

Oh well, at least it’s a little better than last week.

Another way to look at it? Why can I come up with pretty nice lists of the tech industry (I have 20 lists separated out into separate things like venture capitalists, tech news brands, tech executives, web innovators, etc) but Twitter can’t spend more time getting these right?


  1. Agree with you on this one Rob completely.

    After taking a look at the Twitter Suggestion lists I was even more disappointed by the people listed because a lot of them aren't really Technology or News tweeters but are employed in that sector. Seems pretty lame to follow people in News or Technology as a new user and see a sea of @replies and a lack of information.

    Makes me think back to your comments on having separate twitter accounts to avoid overuse and annoying endless streams of @replies w/o content.

  2. I think the SUL is really targeted towards the newbie Twitter user. This user won't understand what lists are and maybe listorious is too complex. Personally I prefer the listorious model, but speaking with friends who are new to Twitter, still don't get the point of lists

  3. I think the difference is that you are looking at this from the perspective of someone that is very adept at using Twitter and lists but Twitter is looking at it from the average user's pov and I think the average user's eyes would glaze over if you showed them Listorous.

  4. Well, this doesn't match with my interviews with newbies. Their biggest problem is not seeing enough to do. Notice how the Twitter list didn't exist a year ago, and is getting more complex. Why is that? Because they are getting the same feedback. “Normal users” have no problems with using a Yellow Pages or Google. Those present a lot more complexity to them then Listorious does. Heck, even Facebook is more complex and Facebook has 4x more users than Twitter does (and a LOT more engagement!)

  5. Absolutely wrong. Again, put yourself in a newbie's shoes. Advanced users on Twitter already have plenty of people to follow. I'm following 17,000. I don't need more. But let's say you are really into Cricket. Listorious would get you locked into Twitter as a newbie. Twitter? No way, you wouldn't find anything interesting. I AM DIRECTLY TALKING ABOUT NEWBIES!!! Have you ever interviewed someone who is new to Twitter? I have, many times.

  6. lol. I guess I'm absolutely wrong in your opinion but yes, I talk to new Twitter users all the time and evangelize it every chance I get and most of them don't even get how to use Twitter let alone care about how to search lists to find people to follow. New Twitter users care about getting followers so they're not just talking to themselves, they aren't worried about finding people to follow.

  7. The sad thing is the best source of followers is finding good people to follow and talking with them. I follow back a lot of my followers who talk with me, for instance.

  8. preach it baby! i really don't have anything to add to your review … ok, maybe the fact that it's truly mind boggling how the chiefs at Twitter insist in making these top-down decision that are completely counter to the zeitgeist of their site. i don't get the mindset.

  9. same here. and actually, i have been pruning my list of followers. i have actually axed quite a few of those “marketing/social media/life” gurus with tens of thousands. if people don't partake in any conversation with me, they're just adding noise to my stream.

  10. The biggest problem concerning Twitter to the average person, which would be 95% of your people on Facebook, is that they don't perceive it as an information stream. They only see it as another place where you update your status. The people who migrated to FB in the last year and a half don't need another place to do that with only a scattering of people they know there.

    In order to get Facebook-like numbers, hell, even MySpace-like numbers, Twitter needs to educate the masses about why they are different from those other guys. Facebook enjoys great success b/c now everyone is already there. One stop interaction and updates. That, and apparently the majority of the people would rather play Farmville than read articles that other people post. The only thing drawing the majority of newbies in is the oppurtunity to follow celebrities, and possibly interact with them.

    Newbies who get no followers feel like they are tweeting into the void and quickly get bored. They don't understand how the emergent Twitter community works; they don't understand that they're supposed to post links. They're just trying to figure out what the hype is. It will take time before Twitter chips away at Facebook, and there is a real possibility that it will never even get to where MySpace is right now, although I hope that it does.

  11. Robert – Great stuff. I think a major issue in the tech community is the disconnect with the non tech community. I have watched the eyes and expressions of complete newbies. There is definitely a look of intimidation and last thing we need is intimidating tech. It should be inviting, cozy, easy-to-understand and darn it…useful.

  12. Thanks for the great (and quick!) feedback. This is just the first set of improvements to the ways we hope to help users discover great content and get started on Twitter.

    I'm a huge fan of Listorious, but I'm not sure that a UI like theirs is the right thing present to brand new users. We've done a lot of talking and testing to new users too, and one thing we've seen and heard is how keeping things simple, and giving a few constraints really helps people get going. We know this list is not complete (impossible to be complete across the twitterverse!) so we've relied on our algorithms to identify some of the best users which people start with and continue to engage more extensively.

    I agree that we can make this even richer and help people get even closer to their specific interests and those are areas we hope to explore as we continue to improve this. The interactions and data we're going to see just from this first version will be a great help.

    Here's a link that explains a little bit more:

  13. Not sure that any list created by a small inside group will ever be as good as one created by the users. Users can create lists on hundred of different topic, while Twitter has only a few general ones. Although I do think it is an improvement.

  14. The power of the community is till the most power force on the planet. I have not used Listorious, but do they have standard categories? I do feel that user defined categories are still user defined and one user's definition might not be for another's. Just something I am trying to push in social media.

  15. i like your analysis, and think you are right. twitter's longer term power is in the deep niches of expertise. not sure if they get that so the next 12 months will be interesting.

    the true power is in building sick lists and i dont think you EVER need to tweet.

    whats wrong with listening to an uber curated list of minds you like….a mantra of what you need.

  16. I think another way to go about the Suggested User Lists is also to do it based on location. That will allow people to start connecting with people in their same cities or counties.

    Today Southern California had a massive storm blow through, including thunder, lightning and tornadoes. If I was a new user, it would be much more likely to stick around on Twitter if I immediately found people to follow who were talking about relevant things like the weather, local sports, traffic conditions, great places to eat, local personalities, and local businesses. That's what's helping Foursquare grow.

    Twitter has the data, so it's just a matter of finding the right way to hack through it to provide relevant people to Suggest to help people stick to Twitter.

  17. bang on Howard, very succinctly said….and I would agree…the need to tweet is overrated imo.

    I'm wondering if Twitter is trying to be too many things and hasn't yet really decided what it wants to be.

  18. I'd love to know what the priority is at Twitter. It's a nice change but it's half-assed. Twitter has so much potential but the window of opportunity is getting smaller.

  19. I think that when celebrities like Shaq, Oprah and Britney joined Twitter, the service received benefit in terms of advertisement and coverage. But where's the fun in following such celebs updates? After some time people get tired and in no way can interact with someone with millions of followers.

    The real focus should go back to personal conversation among people who know each other or share some interest, and who can establish discussion, within the 140 characters or using connected services like FriendFeed or Amplify.

  20. I'm sure you can find a way to present new people in a better way. By the way, what you SHOULD be presenting to new users is NOT Twitterers to follow, but great tweets. THAT is a place I'd LOVE to see Twitter's staff used. For instance, in the past eight months I've favorited almost 13,000 tweets at — if you are a newbie, you will get 100x more value out of that stream than any list of Twitterers. Why? Because 99.9% of what anyone writes is crap. Even look at Bill Gates. He got on the list after doing only five tweets, most of which aren't the kind of thing that will make any newbie feel welcomed or informed.

    That would also show the BEHAVIOR that you guys want us to perform instead of having everyone trying to figure out how to get on the list, which just won't lead to good twitter behavior.

    Last night you told me that the list is algorithmic. Oh, really? How did Bill Gates get on after just five tweets then? Just because he's popular? Does that really mean he's good for Twitter's to follow? Seems you guys still haven't learned the lesson yet. Well, churn will continue until you do!

  21. “We've relied on our algorithms to identify some of the best users which people start with and continue to engage more extensively.”

    What does that mean?

    The categories aren't well organized. Some of those people do not engage AT ALL. What algorithms reward that?

  22. That's a great breakdown of Listorious vrs Twitter, i think twitter should link their suggested user list to Listorious, I mean if they can't fix the problem yet, the least they could do is give better user-friendly version.. And I have seen video interviews of people's thought on twitter, and mostly they say they don't get it.. or they don't get it in general. It's a shame that's traffic to twitter is declining in traffic, but who knows maybe Gates will boost the rating for the time being..

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