How @formulists Killed the Value of the Twitter LIST

(Formulists is dead. Long live the Twitter List! Here’s my response: Twitter Lists: Recovering the Magic of Discovery on Twitter)

Let me get this off my chest early.

I don't want another @formulists list, ever!

The Lists shown above, auto-generated by @fomulists are CRAP! If I could block myself from people’s @formulists lists I would. I have sent DM Tweets to both people on their Twitter account asking for that “feature.” How can I block myself from your spammy lists?” You can reach them too at @nat_mich and @raul_f .

Let’s check it out.

the crap form of lists @formulists version

When Twitter created Lists they quickly became a way for people to build TRIBES around a certain topic. As your List count grew, it was clear to see that people were enjoying your tweets and felt that you belonged with them, in their List, based around something that was REAL and IMPORTANT to them. Of course there were people who started building lists in order to win friends, gain followers, and basically abuse the trust system that true “community” relies on.

Enter @fomulists. Now, by setting a few AUTO functions on your Twitter account, using their SPAMMY tool, you can generate LISTS without any value at all. You can create a list of who happened to follow you on a particular day, or week, or month. You can generate a LIST of people who mention Lady Gaga. You can build these AUTO-Generated LISTS, without having to think about them at all. And what this does is, it creates Lists that have ZERO value and ZERO discovery potential. I guess it makes it look like you are really active on Twitter. It makes it seem like you are included and have created a large number of followers, and followees. But it’s crap.

As part of my discovery process I still check out who has added me to their lists. Because I want to see who they are, what the list they created is about, and how I might fit into that TRIBE. It is possible that the other people on the LIST are of interest to me to. After all, in some ways we are in the same LIST/TRIBE as a result of someone taking deliberate action to put us together.

An example is my Trust-Network list. This is a very short list. And each of these people are folks I have done business with. And people who I would recommend without qualification. Hand-picked people in my Trust Network. I would suggest you follow each of them, if their subject matter expertise interests you.

With @formulists all you have is someone’s Name for the list, “recently followed” is a pretty common “setting.” And then @formulists does it all for you. Okay, so now let’s see if there is value in one of these LISTs. Let’s pick one at random from the image above.

@formulists' spammy list building

Let’s see. So Eric has not done me any favors in limiting the list to a manageable number. If I KNEW Eric and I was interested in who “recently-followed” him, I would then have to look through 500 Tweeters to pick out the gold from the chafe. Not gonna happen. So let’s see what the first few people on the list look like.

a @formulists crap "recently followed" list

Deals, spammers and an Emma Roberts fan/stalking club. (she’s the young actress from Harry Potter, right?)

Do you see anything that looks interesting in this small sampling of tweets? Do you see any reason you would want to continue looking through Eric’s “list” to find other like-minded Tweeps?

NO! And here’s why. They are NOT like-minded people. There is no connection between them, except for the one where Eric set up an Auto rule that is building this crappo list on the fly. So ANY spammer can follow Eric and violá they are added to this LIST. So it makes spammers jobs a lot easier. But it makes the “discovery” process on Twitter a bit more challenging.

AND what used to be a form of authenticity or authority on Twitter (how many people have actually added you to a hand-picked list) is now simply another meaningless stat. Like how many people follow you.

Here’s the real question. When you TWEET something, how many of your followers actually visit the link or read what you have broadcast? How many people (most of them might be bots, scammers, and auto-tweeting mlm marketers) respond, or ReTweet your thoughts?

What @formulists has done is taken the value out of the Twitter List. Twitter would be well servered to eliminate @formulists access to the Twitter API and get rid of this problem. Until they do, the LIST will be another miss.

Or maybe Twitter could start TRIBES and not let anyone AUTO-attach themselves to anyone else. But that might be bad for business in Twitter’s corporate mind. In Twitter’s business, more is more, and more is more potential for revenue.

And mark my words. Twitter ADS are coming. They’ve got to be. No matter how popular Twitter is, the couponing resurgence will not last for ever. And Twitter has got to start making money. Soon.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hi John,

    The core idea behind Formulists is in fact to help build real connections with people that are important to our users.  Lists make it possible to break an otherwise crazy and busy stream into manageable feeds which in turn makes it easy for people to focus and engage with the tweeps on those lists. So our goal is to do the work of finding and grouping tweeps for our users so they can better focus on engaging with them. We can find and group people in a number of ways including (but not limited to) where they’re from, how much you talk to them, or a topic they are an expert in.  As one example I have used Formulists to quickly create a list of Austin tweeps which would be valuable for Austin people looking to discover and build relationships with other locals (  It’s awesome that you have taken the time to put together such great lists and it is true that Formulists are not a replacement for every single kind of Twitter list.   All Formulists are based around “formulas” (ie: who RTed me most this year, sociable moms in my network, food trucks in SF, etc)  and so it is in cases where users are looking to discover or engage more with a specific type of tweep that we can help make the job a lot easier.  I have written a blog post to help answer some common questions about Formulists ( and if you are interested I would also be happy to work with you further on demonstrating the value our service can provide.

    Natalie (from Formulists)

    1. Thanks Natalie, and thank you for responding. I understand your proposition. I’m just not very happy with the clutter *I* think it creates. I also agree that I am being opinionated and harsh with Formulists. That’s what I do, when I don’t like something. And in working to make Twitter a better place, I do see how Formulists CAN/COULD be used to make some valuable lists. But in the same way that I am against AUTO-DMs and Scheduled ReTweets, I’m not a big fan of a bot, or automated process taking over for something as promising as LISTS.

      We may not ever see the landscape the same, but I do respect your opinion and what Formulists is attempting to do.

      That said, you should give Twitter users an option to OPT-OUT of all future Formulists. Either have them register and then set a preference, or simply give us, users not really all that enthusiastic about Formulists, an option to say NO. That’s not too much to ask is it?



  2. The “spammiest” of the lists should simply be private. Some of them are a reasonable tool, others less so.

    1. There is potential value in building filtered lists. Mostly however, they are rubbish. I don’t think the auto version of lists is a good one. #formulists #twitter

    2. Hi Dave,
      Most formulists are by default made to be private Twitter lists (and the others are left without a default privacy setting).  Are there any lists in particular you are thinking of that are best served as private lists? 

      1. Don’t you still think we need a way to OPT-OUT of ALL formulists inclusions? If I don’t follow @natalie_formulists:disqus @formulits for example? Then don’t add me to any auto-lists.

  3. Just seen this and I understand the point – but I dont agree that Formulists was bad. It served a very useful purpose for me and I’d like it back if that were possible.

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