Conversationlists: Some Object, Strongly.

Standard

For the most part, the response to conversationlist.com has been really gratifying. A lot of people found it interesting, some found it really useful, and for the most part the criticism we’ve gotten has been well thought out and constructive.

Sure, plenty of people found it uninteresting, stupid, or felt that something like favstar.fm’s dynamic “most favorited” list creator was a more useful tool (and the favstar.fm lists are definitely awesome, by the way), but that comes with the territory.

The one case where criticism struck me as a little odd was also — perhaps unfortunately — the case where it was coming from the highest profile source. Over the weekend Robert Scoble Twittered “Yo @nk can you block http://conversationlist.com/ from posting to “listed?” That service is VERY spammy and hides real value of lists.”

I know, ouch, right?

I made a little effort to reach out to Scoble for some more detail on his complaints about conversationlists, but haven’t (yet, at least) heard anything back, so I’ll address the possible complaints that I’ve dreamed up here and keep an eye on the comments to discuss anything else that comes up.

Problem One: being added to a bunch of lists called “conversationlist” doesn’t tell me anything about how people view me. It is, therefore, spammy.

I agree that being added to someone’s conversationlist is something different from being added to someone’s “influencers” list, or their “tech” list, but I don’t believe that it’s less valuable information. When you’re added to a conversationlist it’s because that person is actually paying attention to you on Twitter, either trying to engage with you or talking about you. It’s a dynamic state, rather than a static classification.

Granted, you can’t easily build a scorecard from this kind of list. Instead of “500 people have added me to lists named ‘tech’, and I am therefore one of the top tech resources on Twitter,” you have to say something like “I consistently appear on 50 people’s conversationlists, so I am having a measurable impact on the discussions happening on Twitter.”

Better still, you could say something like “why am I significant to this particular group of people? Do they agree or disagree with what I’m saying? Who and what else are they talking about?”

Conversationlists don’t tell you how people think about you directly, they tell you that people are actually interested in you on an ongoing basis.

Problem Two: they’re not [ahem] curated lists, it’s a machine making them. I want to know what people actually think.

Conversationlists are certainly not curated lists in the current buzzword sense, but nor are they created by machines; they are created by people just doing what they already do on Twitter. The machine is only there to keep track of what the people are doing.

Consider this: yes, my “tech” list (if I had one) would a be curated public statement. I would include the people I think are influential (even if I don’t really pay attention to them). I would probably make a point of excluding certain people that I think are overrated (even if I secretly pay attention to those people). I would try to include lesser-known “insider” people, so that other geeks would look at my tech list and say “hey, @whitneymcn didn’t just create that same tech list everybody else did, he knows about @ObscureCoolTechPerson, too.”

My tech list would (of course) be full of fascinating people, but it would also be a view into what I want you to think about me. That’s certainly useful, but it’s not “right” in and of itself. By offering insight on who I’m actually talking to and about, conversationlists give a different view, and one that I think is equally useful. I’m curating that list with my actions, every single day.

Hell, @scobleizer is on my conversationlist right now. I obviously don’t agree with what he’s saying, but I’m sure paying attention to him, and I think there’s value in exposing that fact.

Problem Three: I @reply lots and lots of people, and my friend doesn’t @reply anyone. Conversationlists are useless to us.

I don’t see much of a problem here: don’t use conversationlists if it doesn’t fit what you’re doing on Twitter. [Though do check out the additional tools that we’re rolling out, okay?]

Some of the earliest feedback we got on conversationlists, from someone whose opinion I respect, included these two bullet points:

  • I don’t do much public conversation in Twitter so my conversationlist is kind of weird.
  • Killer idea.

So if I may paraphrase, this person said both “this thing is pretty much useless for me personally” and “I think that this thing is interesting” in the course of about four sentences. Is that crazy? No, I don’t think so. Conversationlists aren’t going to be useful for everyone. For what it’s worth, nor are Twitter lists going to be useful to everyone. The issue, however, is that “not useful to me” is rather different from “not useful.”

Conclusion

There may be other things that bug people about conversationlists, and Kevin and I really would love to hear them. Leave a comment, send an email, let us know. We won’t make every change that everyone would like to see, but we’ll absolutely listen to everything that people have to say.

  • http://leftovertakeout.com gbattle

    Robert et. al. are drinking the Haterade Whitney.

    Twitter Lists are tools for the creator first, other people second. The idea that the name {{gasp}} doesn't give enough valuable metadata to others about the list members is complete BS. If anything, conversationlist says more about the list OWNER than almost any other listing convention I've seen.

    Dynamic (sign up and go), easily explained, consistent naming across users, I think it's just fine. It's a summary page for those I am most actively engaged with through the medium. Simple and transparent.

  • http://epcostello.net/ e.p.c.

    Scoble is an edge case of an edge case way off to one side of the distribution of users. I can see his point partially: he looks at what lists he’s listed in and sees (from his perspective) entry after entry of “conversationlist” with no other context.

    Wonder if his opinion would change if the lists were created private?

    Also: minor typo on the conversationlist.com homepage: c/udpate/update/ in the first graph.

  • http://absono.us whitneymcn

    Thanks — I basically view it the same way: they're lists that provide
    insight about the creator (and possibly *to* the creator) more than
    anything else. The other nice thing is that The Tweet doesn't appear
    to have had any impact on people signing up. :-)

  • http://absono.us whitneymcn

    I think that's actually a fair piece of what bugs me: people don't add
    me to lists for *my* benefit, they add me to lists because they feel
    that doing so is helpful either to them personally (a filtered view of
    Twitter) or to the broader universe of Twitter users (a guide to
    interesting people others might not know about).

    That I can see what lists I appear on in interesting, but feels far
    from the point to me.

    (And many thanks for the typo note: embarrassing, will fix.)