Part 2: Twitter Lists: Developers and Applications

by Adele McAlear on October 19, 2009

This is Part 2 of a 3-part 4-part series cross-posted from

Read Part 1: What Are Twitter Lists?

Unfortunately, if you are not part of the Beta roll out, Twitter will not allow you to see the URLs of lists, even if they’ve been tagged as public. For the benefit of everyone, I will include screen shots, where practical, in addition to the link.


In the September 30th blog announcement, Nick Kallen, the project lead on Twitter Lists, stated on the Twitter blog that there will be a Lists API. “This will allow developers to add support for Lists into your favorite Twitter apps.”

It seems that developers were an afterthought on this Twitter feature. Normally, developers are notified of major feature roll-outs such as this well in advance and are afforded the opportunity to work with the API before the launch. However, the development community wasn’t even informed that Twitter Lists was on the development roadmap until September 30th, likely well after Twitter started working on it.

When the feature was released yesterday, the vast majority of developers (but interestingly, not all) didn’t even have access to the Lists API documentation until last night. When users like Robert Scoble started building lists and tweeting about them, the dev community cried foul and a draft of the API documentation was quickly made available, sending developers scrambling to integrate Lists into their offerings throughout the wee hours of last night.



Many original users of TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop were drawn to the services because of the list/group functionality that they offered. Those services have now evolved to offer a host of additional features, but, for many the list/group function remains the primary benefit. With the Lists API, TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop will face a whole slew of Twitter client competition who didn’t previously have a lists or a grouping function.

Now you may be thinking, yes, but I use TweetDeck/Seesmic and so using Twitter Lists doesn’t bring me any extra value. Consider that TweetDeck’s groups are confined to TweetDeck . Twitter Lists, once the developers set to work on it, will start popping up in all sorts of different apps and locations that have been built specifically to add value to the user experience. Twitter Lists will not be confined to the client that you’re running. And that reality will surely cut into established client applications’ market share.


The inclusion of a Lists API will threaten recommendation applications like WeFollow, Twellow, Mr. Tweet or Twibes. The categorization of people on these types of services are usually self-submitted, or in some cases, chosen by an algorithm. The resulting recommendations may not always be vetted according to your personal standards. And let’s face it, following people based on their own self-categorization is just not the same as having a personal recommendation from someone you know. Personal referrals are the preferred way that people make purchasing decisions and deciding who to invest your time with on Twitter is not much different.

Rather than taking random recommendations from Follow Directories, you could easily visit the profile of someone whose opinion you trust and select from their lists. Let’s say you want to learn more about the players in venture capital. By clicking on his lists counter from the profile page, I can examine which lists that Guy Kawasaki has been included on. This netted me a great starter list from Christine Lu:

As it’s possible to subscribe to lists without actually following each individual in the group, I can simply click “Follow List” from the main list page and follow the tweets of a great subset of Twitter, chosen by someone I know.

Twitter Lists also go head-to-head with other applications which allow you to follow groups with a single click. Take TweepML for example. The developers launched their one-click group app on September 9th, exactly 3 weeks before Twitter announced Lists. Had the developers known what lay ahead on the Twitter features road map,  I wonder if they’d have developed the same product. As it stands, TweepML was quick off the mark and explained on their blog last night that it was easy to import your Twitter Lists to their service.

Thousands of applications currently exist that work with the Twitter API, from desktop and mobile clients to statistics and search properties. Smart developers should follow the lead of TweepML and integrate Twitter Lists into their products. By finding ways to use Twitter Lists to add value to existing applications, they’ll be in a better position to survive the inevitable surge of new offerings that have surely sprouted in the last 16 days.

Next up: Part 3: Popularity

Read Part 1: What Are Twitter Lists?

Part 4 will look at the opportunities that brands will have with Twitter Lists.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Swan October 21, 2009 at 10:04 am

Any idea how subscriptions are going to function? Will the tweets from those tweeple show up in my main stream? Will the Tweeple show up in my follow list?

What happens if I unsubscribe? Do I lose all those follows? What if I was following some of them before I subscribed?

Anything you know is appreciated.

Adele McAlear October 21, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Great questions. Subscribing to a list does not mean that you follow the people on the list. It has absolutely no bearing on followers/following numbers. It’s like watching people anonymously. If you unsubscribe from a list, your following and followers are totally unaffected.

On the right hand sidebar are all the lists that you’ve created or subscribed to. Clicking on the list will change your view so that instead of seeing all the Tweets of the people you’re following, you’ll see all the Tweets of the people on that list. Simply click “Home” to change back to your regular view.

I hope this helps.

Grocery List December 9, 2010 at 3:47 am

It seems that developers were an afterthought on this Twitter Feature. Normally, developers are notified of major feature roll outs such as this well in advance and are afforded the opportunity to work with the API in before the launch.Twitter Lists will not be confined to the client that you’re running.And that reality will surely cut into established client applications’ market share.

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