What journalists need to know about Twitter's expanded lists

I'm in Twitter List Heaven. Well, actually, now that Twitter has expanded the capabilities of its list feature, just about the only category I haven't made a new list for is heaven.

Before Twitter updated its lists feature last week, users could create only 20 lists with 500 accounts in each; now, they can create 1,000 lists with 5,000 accounts in each. The update impacts the role Twitter plays as an international news source by enabling journalists to be even more organized and save time as they gather, report and share news and information.

My first Poynter article about Twitter lists, published last December, focused on (and kvetched about) how using lists meant creating strategies for dealing with those then-current, now-old limitations. We are now free of those frustrating, time-wasting constraints and their accompanying strategies. My second lists article, published in April, explained how to remove yourself from other users' lists, and under what circumstances you may want to do that. Twitter's new list expansion doesn't affect that issue at all.

Your strategies for creating and using Twitter lists now include adapting your old lists to the expansion, and the freedom to create more lists, with more accounts in them, than you will probably ever need.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you expand your lists.

Be aware of Twitter list glitches

Often, when Twitter upgrades a feature or rolls out a new one, there are temporary glitches. That has happened with the list expansion, as well. Using Twitter's website directly, this particular glitch began months before the expansion, and continues as of this writing: Users may not be able to edit the name and description of a list.

After making the edits, nothing happens when clicking to save them. This means that until Twitter fixes this problem, you're stuck with the name and description you give to each list unless you delete the list.

I named a new list and put a few accounts in it, and then changed my mind about what that list should be called. So, I created a new list, with the new name, put those accounts in it, and then deleted the list with the name I didn't like.

Creating your lists

Since you can now create up to 1,000 lists, with 5,000 accounts in each, you will no longer have to shove 10 pounds of crap into a five-pound bag, a practice I first heard applied to journalism years ago from one of my favorite magazine editors.

Under the 20-list limitation, I had many combined lists, but I have been dismantling them and creating individual lists for the accounts they once held. I had two International lists for accounts that were based in or focused on locations outside the United States: One for the United Kingdom and Canada, and one for the rest of the world. I've begun transferring accounts from those lists to the many individual regional, country and continent lists I've just created. When I'm done, I'll delete the two old International lists. I've already deleted my TV/Radio/Online list, after creating many individual lists for those accounts.

If you already have lists, it's well worth the time it takes to dismantle the old ones as you create new ones. This upfront investment will save you a tremendous amount of time down the road as you use your new lists.

If you don't already have lists (and even if you do), remember that your lists should reflect how you use Twitter, not how anyone else does. Tailor your lists to your needs.

Each list can be made either public (anyone can see it) or private (only you can see it), but remember that it's never a good idea to put confidential sources in private lists.

If your Twitter account is hacked, those private lists won't be so private anymore. As tempting as it may be to bow to technology, you should never store confidential sources or sensitive information on Twitter or anywhere else online, or even on your computer, phone or other device.

Now that we can create so many lists, you may want to create the kinds of lists you didn't have enough list capability for until now. Those lists could include temporary or ongoing lists you may need for breaking news events, and those that will have lasting impact.

Take advantage of cross-listing

You'll find it useful to have larger, general lists as well as medium-sized and small lists that cross-list accounts. For example, I now have two general lists of television networks and cable channels, one for the U.S. and one that's international (for countries outside the U.S.), but I also have separate lists for individual networks and cable channels even though those accounts are on the general lists.

Remember that apps can't replace brains

Don't let apps make your choices for you. It's worth the time to make your own lists. Apps can't take into consideration all the factors that go into choosing which accounts to put on your lists.

Maintain your lists

Creating lists and adding accounts to them is not a singular event. Create them and add accounts to them as needed. Go through your lists periodically to weed out accounts you no longer want on lists, including those that have been inactive for a long time. On occasion, you may want to keep an inactive account on a list because lists are like Twitter's Rolodex. An organization or individual may have stopped tweeting, but if the account still exists and its description and website link are not outdated, having this information may be helpful.

As of this writing, I have more than 130 Twitter lists. And, no, that's not too many -- not if you keep them organized and find them useful. Here's a link to my list of lists. I'm still moving accounts from old combination lists to many new lists. And I'm still creating more.

In my first Twitter lists article, I wrote that "people on Twitter often ask me if I have three heads and six hands. No, I tell them. I have Twitter Lists." Now, people will think I've sprouted even more heads and hands.

Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, columnist, and essayist who has been published in many magazines and newspapers, including Omni, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times Magazine. Her books include “Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers.” She’s also a humorist who performed on “Pandemonium” and wrote a monthly humor column for Independent Publisher Magazine from 2003-2012. You can find her on Twitter and subscribe to her Facebook posts.


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