When I wrote Directory: 100 technology experts on Twitter in August, I bemoaned the fact that Twitter did not have a feature for organizing these types of lists. Here's what I said:
"I wish there was an easy way for you to simply push a button and add all 100 people on this list to your 'following' list on Twitter. Unfortunately, there's not. So you will need to go to the Twitter profile of each person you're interested in following. This is something that Twitter needs to improve. It needs a group or list feature so that people can set up lists like this and users can then follow the entire list with a single click."
Now Twitter has come through with an official Lists feature and the execution of this idea is even better than I expected. You can make lists of users for any purpose, such as friends, CEOs, newspapers, really-smart-people, etc. Then you can easily add any Twitter users to that list, since Twitter has added a list button to almost every place that you see a user name so that you can click it and add that person to any of your lists by clicking a checkbox (see below).
Once you have your lists set up, they show up in the right column and you can click them at any time to see only the posts from the users on that list. What's nice about that is that there may be Twitter users that you don't necessarily want to follow in your main Twitter stream, but you'd like to keep track of their posts in a specialized list. For example, you might want to have the Twitter feeds for news organizations like CNN, CBS, and New York Times aggregated into a news list.
You also have the choice to make your lists private or public. If they are private then only you see them and use them. If they are public, then others can subscribe to the lists and the lists show up in their group of lists in the right column.
Keep in mind that when you follow a list, all of the people in that list are NOT automatically added to the list of people that you follow. Instead, that list is simply added to your lists in the right column. I like that approach. You can always add individual users that you discover as useful Twitterers from your lists.
The lists also get their own unique URLs (twitter.com/username/listname). For example, below is the link to my list of 100 tech experts on Twitter (named "tech100") and my list of TechRepublic editors and writers on Twitter:
On Twitter, you can also use @jasonhiner/tech100 as a shorthand to refer to a list and it will automatically get linked.
Another aspect of the Lists feature that I really like is that you can go to any user and see the lists that the person follows and all of the lists that include that person (see below).
There are two improvements I'd like to see for Twitter Lists. First, it would be great if there could be a 140-character description of a Twitter List to help others understand the purpose and contents of the lists. Second, it would still be nice if you could click one button and follow everyone on a list, as an option.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.