Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Make Twitter better with Lists

I use Twitter a lot, and have for a long time. But I recently discovered that there’s a feature of Twitter that most people don’t use—and it’s one that I’ve been using heavily for years in order to make Twitter work better for me: the Twitter List.

My Sports List in action.

Twitter Lists are essentially alternate Twitter timelines. If you follow someone on Twitter, their tweets appear in your main timeline. If you add someone to a List, their tweets appear only in that List. If you’re overwhelmed with the amount of stuff in your Twitter timeline, one way to calm it down is to move a bunch of the people you follow into Lists and stop following them.

(Alternately, you could continue to follow a huge number of people—but secretly add the people you really care about to a List, and only read that List.)

Twitter Lists can be public or private. Private Lists belong to you, and you alone—nobody else can see that List. If you choose to make a List public, you’re allowing other people to browse it and subscribe to it. Similarly, when someone else has curated an interesting Twitter List, you can subscribe to it. (Just add /lists to the end of a Twitter user page URL to see what Lists, if any, they’re sharing. Here’s mine.)

I’ve found Twitter Lists to be most valuable when it comes to topics I’m interested in, but don’t need to read constantly throughout the day. For example, I’ve curated a List of sportswriters who cover topics that interest me into a sports List that I read a couple of times a day. I’ve also got one for scientists and science reporters, with a focus on space topics. Since I’m curating the List myself, it caters to my interests—no one else’s.

Recently I wrote about how I’m enjoying Blaseball, the weird sports simulator from The Game Band. Blaseball is best enjoyed through the lens of social media, but I found that Blaseball-focused accounts were just too much for my normal Twitter timeline. So I created a Blaseball List, and am much happier.

To create a List, visit the Twitter web page, log in, and click on Lists. Click the image of a document with a plus symbol at the top of the screen and give your List a name. Then when you find someone interesting, click next to their tweet and choose “Add/remove [user name] from Lists.” If you’re using an app, the approach will be slightly different. Some apps may not support List creation, but Twitterrific and Tweetbot are both great at viewing Lists, so once you’ve set your List up you should be in good shape.

Lists aren’t a new feature of Twitter—they’ve been around for ages, and while Twitter’s opinion of them has ebbed and flowed over time, they’ve managed to continue to be supported. In fact, the feature is so old that even third-party Twitter apps support Lists fully. I do most of my List reading in Twitterrific on my iPad, which displays Lists in the sidebar. (I’ve mapped a few of my favorite Lists to toolbar icons in Twitterrific, so they’re always at hand.)

Once you’ve created an interesting List, you can also get more out of it using a tool that aggregates Twitter streams into Lists of links. I use Nuzzel, which converts my social-media channels into headlines, in the style of an RSS reader. Nuzzel supports Twitter Lists, which makes it easy to get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in the sports and science worlds that I care about.

In short, Twitter Lists are great. If you’re using Twitter, give them a try. Whether you end up removing noisy people from your main timeline or adding people to a List whom you’d never follow, you may find that turning Twitter into a series of different timelines makes it much more useful than tossing everyone in a single, unmanageable stream of Tweets.

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