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Don't Get Cocky, Twitter

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Yesterday morning, I was up early with big plans for knocking out a few Twitter Lists, boom boom boom. Ha. As if. I could NOT believe how what a time-waster it was — not only do you have to add everyone one by one, but you can't even type a name in quickly - you have to type in the name in the search box, search, then click on a drop-down menu to select the applicable list. Really? How about just go through your list and CLICK A BOX? But no, multi-adds aren't possible and won't be for a while. From Phil Bump's excellent Twitter List FAQ:

The problem, right now, is that the API for the Lists feature isn't quite done. Marcel Molina, an engineer on the Twitter API team, told Mediaite via e-mail that API will be ready for developers to use sometime next week. At that point, look for an explosion of browser-based tools which will allow you to quickly and easily build lists in a more intuitive way.

Unfortunately, though, Molina also indicates that having the ability to batch update a list (that is, to add a number of users at a time) is under consideration, but not currently supported. This means that creating or editing a large list will continue to be a little pokey - though resourceful developers may find a way around this limitation.

So why launch this now? Twitter knows that the early beta testing group will happily plug away at making their new feature pop — because it's COOL to be one of the Twitter chosen, like Ashton — and then that everyone else will follow suit, not only because they've heard the buzz but because it's essential to not falling behind (let's inflate those follower counts, everyone!). I have no problem with rolling out a new feature and I have no problem with changing the way the game is played, but I DO have a problem with doing so in a way that creates a time-consuming, burdensome process for your users. It's antithetical to everything that made Twitter work so well in the first place.

Or maybe not. I remember looking through the Twitter "Suggested Users" and seeing things like "Whole Foods" and "Britney Spears." Hardly a list curated on based on quality. And there's no application process so, say, a new charity can apply for that status (I spent a lot of time back in May helping to launch Elie Wiesel's Twitter feed — a worthy one if ever there was — and it would have been great to be able to submit that feed for consideration). But no. I just went to check out the "Suggested Users" again and I kid you not, this was the very first one: Dell Outlet - "Refurbished Dell™ computers, electronics." Don't forget that TM sign! Somewhere, Jeff Jarvis is bonking his head against a wall.

I also remember Howard Lindzon of StockTwits complaining that Twitter didn't promote the offshoot sites that used it in innovative, successful ways (like, ahem, Stocktwits) — instead cleaving to the celeb-tweeter crowd. Now, with these Twitter Lists, the usual suspects again got the first nod — and a critical jump of time which turns out to actually matter sort of a lot, since it takes about half an hour to make any list worth reading. I have been a huge Twitter booster and proselytizer since I signed on but part of that was the simplicity and ease of using it, and before it exploded. This is the first time I've been turned off by something Twitter has done. It reminds me of the awful Facebook redesign which basically drove me off that platform, except to post the occasional Mediaite link.

I know what you're thinking, "Wah, wah, why does Twitter need you and your puny 9K following? The top 168 Twitter accounts have over 1 million and the top-thousandth person has 54,886. You're bupkes." Well yes, yes, I am. But an empire is built on bupkes, and Twitter's whole enterprise has relied on people generating content for free. If it wants Lists to take off, it needs everyone to make them — which means incentivizing users to spend their (free) time to create their (free) lists which amount to (free) infrastructure. All of which Internerds have historically shown they're happy to do, but only if it's (a) useful and (b) easy. Tagging, organizing, curating — it takes time. If it takes too much of it, why bother? (BTW this is one of the reasons I switched from YouTube to Vimeo).

I'm still a Twitter fan and have said before that I would gladly pay for it — Lord knows I use it! — but even the most loyal users can get turned off by a bad user experience. This is the Internet — there's always something else waiting in the wings. (For God's sake, even Stocktwits decided they didn't need Twitter anymore, and it's part of their name.) So don't get too cocky, Twitter. It's early yet - and your users have to LIKE using you. Next time, think of them when you roll out a new product — not just yourself.

This post originally appeared at Mediaite.

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