Mark Trapp

Twitter Lists Make Twitter Dangerous to Use

The big buzz in the social media world lately revolves around Twitter’s rollout of its “list” feature, which allows you and others to create lists of your followers: easily tagging them so you can share those lists with others. Robert Scoble thinks it’s a game changer, and is pushing the value proposition for them hard. But I think lists, because they have no consent mechanism and because they can be made public, are boneheaded, broken, and ultimately make Twitter a dangerous tool to use for anyone who values their reputation.

Three Strikes: You’re Out

Twitter made three colossal mistakes with its list implementation:

  1. Lists are public,
  2. Lists a person has been categorized in are available on that person’s profile, and
  3. Most crucially, a person cannot consent to the categorization.

This makes lists a wholly individualized action: I have the ability, with no accountability, to categorize anyone as anything and make that categorization public and attached to that person, like a scarlet letter. Because all lists are treated equally, my categorization doesn’t get marginalized or ignored. On the contrary, the most I make my categorization stand out, the more it’ll be noticed.

Take a look at Robert Scoble’s list memberships: he’s in about 1,100 lists, most of them are “technology guy” or something similar. If I, say, put him in a “child molester” list, or a “douche bag” list, which one do you think stands out? The sea of “tech” lists, or the really offensive one?

So Long, and Thanks for All the Spam

Beyond the libelous or defamatory possibilities, public lists are now a great avenue for spam that you can’t opt-out of or protect yourself in any way. Consider my list memberships: I’m on two generic technology lists. Great: now all a spammer has to do is to target technology people and I’m included. I can’t change that, because someone else decided to categorize me.

You might be thinking that’s just the risk you take by having a public feed: spammers targeted people based off of keyword searches even before lists. So, go back to the public publishing of lists aspect: now, spammers can categorize me in their “cialis” or “seo-for-less-seojackass-dot-net” lists, and they now get free advertising that’s attached to my Twitter profile. A whole new avenue for making Twitter useless! Awesome!

Make an Informed Choice

It’s odd that in all the coverage about how awesome Twitter is now because of lists, that people haven’t picked up on this, or chose not to care. But if Twitter lists go unchanged, one seriously needs to consider how valuable Twitter is for them or the risks they are taking by using Twitter as a communication medium. It’s now just become easier to have Twitter bite you in the ass without you having to tweet a single sentence.

Twitter needs to take a few simple steps to make lists less risky: remove lists from being attached to a person’s profile and they could allow people to opt out of lists. More comprehensively, they could turn off public lists or make list memberships opt-in (like groups work on Facebook and FriendFeed).

Updates

Update 1

Robert Scoble responded, pointing out that you can block lists. I believe he’s referring to being able to block the list creator, which does remove you from any list that they created and prevents them from adding you to a new list. It shouldn’t require a block action to opt out of a list, though: I should be in control of anything attached to my profile. My two basic requirements still stand.

Update 2

Lively discussions are taking place on Robert Scoble’s FriendFeed feed and on mine.