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Hands-on with Twitter Lists

Twitter's Lists feature, yet to be released, has a few quirks that detract from the service, but it's a viable feature most users will like.

When Twitter announced its new Lists feature late last month, I was excited. As someone who follows everyone who follows me, it does become difficult to see only those tweets from certain people. Lists promises to change that.

Twitter's Lists feature allows you to make a themed list of Twitter users. So, let's say you wanted to create a list of only CNET writers. After you add us all, you'll be able to view only the tweets from those you added to the list. It's a nice way to edit out the noise. It helps you see only what you want to see.

Twitter Lists
Twitter Lists is coming to Twitter. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

So when I saw that Twitter had given me access to Lists (which is in limited testing) on Wednesday, I jumped right in. And after using it for a while I've found that, aside from a few kinks, Twitter has developed a winner.

The basics
When you create a list, Twitter displays a dialog box, allowing you to name your list and decide if you want it to be public or private. By default, the list is set to public.

Twitter Lists
Creating a list in Twitter Lists. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Once you choose your settings, Twitter brings you to its user search page. Simply input the name or username of the person you want to add to your themed list. When you find the person you're looking for, you'll see a "lists" option lumped between the "follow" and "actions" options. Click that lists icon and you can choose which list you want to add the person to. You can also create a new list from the pane.

I created two lists--"tech" and "tech news"--allowing me to find tech updates quickly when I'm looking for story topics. So far, I have a handful of users in both lists, but I've already seen the value of it. It's now much easier for me to find out what different publications are writing about. I need only to click the list I want on my profile page and I'm all set.

You can see which lists you're following. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

I should note that you can also add yourself to lists you create. That said, Twitter makes it more difficult to do so than it should.

The whole point of Lists is to create themed groupings. Since I'm involved in tech news, it makes sense for me to add myself to my public tech-news list. Unfortunately, Twitter makes you jump through hoops to do it. As far as I can tell, you can only add yourself to a list by viewing your profile and clicking the "Lists" option. It won't even let you add yourself from the search field.

Considering Twitter's own description of the service includes creating timelines "consisting of friends, family, co-workers," wouldn't it only make sense for you to make it easy to add yourself to the list, so those folks can see what you're up to? Granted, you can add yourself. But it needs to be an option at the beginning of the list-creation process. You shouldn't need to search for it.

Twitter Lists
You can follow or unfollow Twitter Lists. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

When you set your list to public, users can follow them just as they would any other profile. If you're the list creator, you automatically follow the list. Conversely, any public list you find allows you to follow it. While that makes sense, Twitter has yet to make it easy to find lists. For now, the best way to find lists is to see which lists you're included in or to see what kind of lists other users are following by clicking on the new "listed" link on profile pages. It's rather annoying. A List search is in order.

Design changes
With the addition of lists, your personal Twitter home page has become a little more cluttered. The "tweets" tally has been moved to just below your username. It has been replaced with the number of lists following you. Quick links to lists you follow has been placed just below the search box, but above the "Trending Topics" list. It might get a little unruly when there are several lists you follow and you're looking for just one, but having quick access to them is a welcome design choice.

Twitter profile
The new profile page on Twitter. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Bottom line
I'm quite happy with Twitter Lists. The service, still in a closed beta, has some design quirks that Twitter needs to work out, but having the ability to filter tweets is quite appealing.

There are some who might question the need for lists in Twitter. After using it, I don't. I think it's a great way to find users you might never have known about. It's also a nice way to find all the Twitter content that you actually care about.

Kudos, Twitter. The new Lists feature is a winner.