An Open Letter to Twitter About the @Formulists Problem: Why I Just Blocked You On Twitter

UPDATE 3-19-12: Formulists has gone away. And while I cannot applaud the loss of work for those Formulistas, I am glad that the unsolicited use of my twitter account is no longer populating lists like “People Who Follow People I Follow, Created by Formulists.” The next step is to get Twitter CORP to take LISTS seriously again. Currently one of my lists pages, “LISTS YOU SUBSCRIBE TO” has not worked since the New Twitter rolled out.

Lists are a great way to build groupings of people you admire on Twitter. Here’s my big post about LISTS: Twitter Discovery – Lists – Who To Follow & How to Find Them


Make Formulists add an OPT OUT for auto-listing

I am included in 413 Twitter lists. At one point this was a stat that I looked at to gauge how I was connecting with people. If I was added to someone’s list, it meant that they valued what I was tweeting. Each list I was added to was like the rush of one hundred new followers. Someone adding me to a list was deliberate. It felt like a validation.

Today, however a good portion of these lists look like this:

forumulists is the death of Twitter lists

Okay, I’ve just finished looking through all of the lists and only about 5% are formulist generated. That’s a lot fewer than I thought it would be.

But here’s the problem with the entire formulists formula. The auto-list generation kills the value of being listed in the first place. Daily I am injected into Autolists with helpful parameters like People I Follow, People Who Recently Followed Me, People I Retweeted, People of People I Wanted to Follow But Didn’t So I Created a List for That. (Okay, I made up the last one, but…)

When Twitter Lists as they were first created they quickly became an indication of authority and “klout” based on people actually following and then adding you to list. (Much like Circles on the new Google+). With the auto-Listing features of Formulists and others the list has become less useful.

An example of how I still use Twitter lists. When I am included manually by someone, I often follow a number of the others on the list. Twitter Lists had true value in the process of discovering others of similar interests to follow. If another person added me to a List called “Health Care Thinkers” then I could be fairly confident that the other hand-picked people would also be REAL and not spam. I don’t think anyone hand-picks a spam account and adds it to a list.

BUT… The auto-listing apps do not have a REAL filter. Their lists, often at the maximum members of 500, include spammers, scammers and anyone who “followed” or “retweeted”. It’s easy for the abusive Twitter accounts to get into these lists. And thus they are passed along with some new (albeit suspect) authority of being added to a LIST.

BOTTOM LINE: It is getting harder and harder to filter the crap tweets out of Twitter. Lists provided a way to at least follow actual people, if they were hand-picked the likelihood was good that they were real accounts. So now Auto-List generators like Formulists have filled the LIST function of Twitter with a lot (and I mean A LOT) of bad accounts. Bad accounts with false validation of being included on a List.

COUNTERPOINT: One wonderful new authority measure is Klout. I am happy to have a new system of filtering out the pornsters. The pornsters are following in groups of 10 – 15 at a time, and I’m sure Formulist would gladly add them to a “recently followed me” auto-List if I used them. I’m not sure how long it will take for the scam accounts to start generating Klout, but I assume it’s only a matter of time.

DEAR TWITTER LEADERSHIP: Please disallow Formulists API stream. If not banning them, at least force them to add a DO NOT AUTO-LIST ME feature where your users could OPT-OUT of being included on a Formulist. Only you can do this.

Thanks for Listening,

(Note: If you would like to see Formulists add an OPT OUT feature please use the #hastag #nofomulists in your tweets about this subject.)

The previous Formulists post: How @formulists Killed the Value of the Twitter LIST

Here is the GetSatisfaction Post I added myself to about this subject: Can I Block Myself From Being Added to A Formulist List? (please add your voice to the thread)

And here is Natalie’s response on GetSatisfaction, much like her response on my original post:

This issue is a bit trickier than it might first appear. One major concern is the confusion it may cause for our users; for example: someone creates a Formulists list to filter all the people they follow from “Vancouver” into a list; it’d be almost impossible for them to realize that the reason why someone isn’t on the list is because they’ve opted out and our system would appear broken.

We are considering a few different options including allowing users to block themselves from being automatically added to certain kinds of public Formulists lists, such as Formulists lists where they are not followed by the person doing the listing, or public 2nd-degree connection lists (lists like “who-my-friends-talk-to” and “mutual-friends”). Each has some complications associated with it and regardless of the selected option, users always have the ability to manually add anyone they want through twitter (even without Formulists). This issue is in discussion right now so we are open to ideas if you have any.


Is it my understanding that the only way to get off someone’s Auto-List is to BLOCK THEM. (Bummer.) Not good enough Natalie. We want an OPT OUT option NOW. It’s easy, just do it.

UPDATE 7-25-11: This morning the problem is demonstrated again:

Multiple lists on forumulists

No offense Drew, but liked it a lot better when I was only on the lists YOU made.

Update 7-25-11 pt 2: Check out how has done their opt-out program. I think Formulists should take a lesson and offer OPT-OUT of all @formulists lists.

See how makes it easy to opt-out of their publishing system

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I feel your pain here BUT you are being a bit harsh I think and, more importantly, you are confusing all of what formulists can do with some of the crappy, default lists which they offer.

    formulists has powerful facilities to process custom lists. I scratch the surface of these powerful tools with a method I use of filtering the ‘noise’ on Twitter:

    This type of ability wouldn’t be easy without the processing power of formulists (and note that any lists which are autogenerated to achieve these ends are private).

    I hope my usage case helps indicate that formulists is not the enemy; perhaps how people use it is.


    1. Great comment Joel. I’ll go check your formulists post and see what I learn. I still think AUTO is bad when it comes to social media. I’m not against using tools.

      1. Sure, please shout out if you have any questions with my use of Formulists.


        Ps and I’d agree with you: auto & social don’t always mix very well!

        1. My main beef with Formulists is their refusal to offer an OPT-OUT option. They say it would confuse their users. So let us opt-out of all PUBLIC lists.

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