On Twitter lists and spheres of influence

Justin Kownacki has some choice commentary on a schoolyard fight between Robert Scoble and Chris Brogan over Twitter’s newest feature: Lists. In the few days since it’s been out, I’ve seen people use lists to bolster others’ egos. Others use them as weapons of mass agitation (@technosailor blocked someone who listed him under “Granny Bangers,” for example). Justin makes a great point in that these “thought leaders” miss the mark about social media itself.

I’ve been blogging since 2002, although my archives only stretch to 2003. In that time I have seen blogs rise and fall. I’ve seen companies spun out of cloth and burn in the light of the day. I am here because I choose it. I am in a unique situation in that I have nothing to gain nor lose from blogging per se. This has been my online identity, and I have built a reputation for web design work, Conservative opinion, and photography, but my professional and financial future do not hinge on this.

Looking from the perspective of a relative elder in a room full of kids, today’s thought leaders serve very, very little beyond platitudes and recycled sports metaphors. Chris Brogan’s rant against lists is nothing more than a dopey way of standing in front of his congregation and saying “you are all beloved. People who categorize others are nasty.” Scoble makes a great point in that people will need to classify information. In the world of Twitter, people are information.

It doesn’t matter what medium you’re writing about. In any one of them where participation is democratized, the distribution of power always follows a long-tail curve. A lot of people dislike the idea that power consolidates upon itself, but that’s what always happens. There is always a center. Justin concludes:

We may not all be equal, but we’re all individuals. And that realization will carry us much farther as a whole than any insistence that we all be invited to the same party.

There are leaders, and there are followers, but leaders do not make more of themselves. It’s when a person decides he won’t be lost in the crowd anymore, that he won’t wait to be recognized by the man in the center of an ever-expanding, increasingly crowded sphere, that he grows into a new leader, too. Fishbowls get crowded, but there’s not just one. The ones who can’t bear to be in one decide to make their own. It’s been the story of this medium, and will be so for a long, long time.

2 thoughts on “On Twitter lists and spheres of influence”

  1. When you put it like that, the future will be found inside an ever growing number of tinier and tinier fishbowls… Hmmm. Perhaps that’s not as alarming a concept as my initial reaction leads me to believe. In fact, it sounds like yet another symptom of “social media is just high school with URLs” syndrome.

    1. Justin: especially among politicos like myself, we’ve seen the explosion of a number of fishbowls over the years. There are all sorts of different factors that lead to a large audience: the ability to insult with intelligence and style, or perhaps brilliant commentary, or inspiring words. There’s always a push-pull thing going on: the need to categorize, to make sense out of anarchy, against the need to self-actualize. The largest thing I resent about the medium is when the followers protect the leaders much more zealously than the leaders do themselves. That’s what happened to one political site that toally got highjacked by his comments community. Now no one gives him credence.

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