Twitter, the over-hyped, under-appreciated social network for sharing chit-chat and links, just launched a tool enabling users to create their own lists on the site. The Journal explains the basics:
The new feature allows Twitter users to organize the people they follow and streamline their feeds. Others can then follow their lists, sparing them the time of hunting for individual Twitterers with shared interests
So what, right?
The feature could be consequential, however, because it devolves a bit more media and social influence to users.
Previously, Twitter essentially held the market on recommending users, through its official list of suggested users. Making that list would net a user hundreds of thousands of followers -- turning the micro-site into a broadcasting portal with the reach of cable news. Landing on the list is so valuable, in fact, one state's election commission is examining whether such social media activity should be regulated. (California has several pols on the big list, with follower counts topping 900,000.)
The new lists enable people to curate and aggregate their own recommendations. Then other users can follow the entire group, or surf a list through a dedicated section of Twitter, which is accessible to people who never even signed up with the service. (This may please Nation commenter Mask, our resident luddite.)
For example, The Nation's Twitter account now hosts a list of Nation contributors. I just created a politics and media list of people worth checking out on Twitter. And users are already innovating ways to tap the list feature for activism and political shaming -- human rights advocate Bob Fertik launched a list tracking journalists who he accuses of enabling torture and war crimes.
Apart from influence and recommendations, this feature also breaks digital ground for live, communal conversations. Now, a national organization could invite its members on Twitter for real-time reaction to a big event, like a presidential speech. That already happens on Twitter, but primarily through new, social networks of people -- not across the social or organizational graphs of offline groups.