Twitter lists still a work in progress

Twitter recently unveiled yet another wrinkle in its service: lists. Essentially, a list is just a grouping of Twitter users, all of whom may be followed in one click. They may be created by any user, although Twitter is currently limiting a user to 20 lists and capping the number of tweeters on a list at 500. So, if I create a list called "Best Athletes on Twitter," I could group a few players into a list, and blam-o, if anyone wants to follow that entire list located on my Twitter page, he or she may do so.

The lists are still in their infancy, but Twitter founder Biz Stone wrote Friday that they're seeing users from news organizations to "Mad Men" enthusiasts taking advantage of this new feature. So where do sports and athletes fit into all this?

Well, we're seeing the NHL already dipping into the list functionality: Via its official Twitter account, the league has asked fans to tweet their team affiliation to it, and from there, it's creating a list of fans for each team. As of press time, the league seems to have fallen prey to the 20-list limit, as only 20 teams are featured. Looks like you're out of luck if you're a fan of one of the 10 teams that can't currently be added. Although this is certainly a great idea to get fans more engaged in NHL chatter and find like-minded, passionate individuals under one roof, there's another problem with it besides maxing out at 20 teams.

For instance, just because you declare allegiance to a particular team and the league categorizes you under such team's list, it doesn't mean that's all you'll be tweeting about. One scan of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks fans list early Tuesday evening showed users talking about heading to the gym, eating their grandfather's chili and sitting in class, with just a few Hawks-related tweets sprinkled in. During game time, this might change, but for those who choose to follow this whole list expecting mostly Hawks chatter, they might not get what they were looking for. Further, in an Internet age when everyone's looking for attention, a user might ask the NHL to add him to a fan list for the sole reason of getting more followers.

Leagues and teams might be better served working in reverse -- generating lists themselves instead of fans dictating to them.

An example: Sure, verified accounts have helped stop the proliferation of the average Joe impersonating an athlete on Twitter, but this can be taken a step further with lists. Currently the NBA's official account -- which now has 1½ million followers -- has no lists. But what if the league decided to create a list with every player in the league who had a Twitter account? Because it would come from a trusted source, we would know each account listed is legit, and they'd all be there for us to follow easily if we so desired.

And this can be drilled down even further to teams. The Nets' official account could create several lists: a list of their players who are on Twitter, a list of newspaper feeds, writers and bloggers who cover the team, a list of team personnel and stadium accounts, etc. A team also could use the NHL's idea of a fan list, and it wouldn't encounter the 20-list max. However, the 500 users per list might eventually be tapped, and again, the amount of team-related chatter on such a list is questionable.

Yet, if done properly, this all creates great utility for a fan: Instead of searching around Twitter, Googling for a list of accounts such as these or using other Web sites that use Twitter's API to filter this kind of information, they have them all in one place on Twitter, starting with an official team or league account. From there, users can mix and match to get the type of coverage, commentary or information they want on their team of choice. Perhaps a happy medium is best: a mix of league- and team-created lists, with a few user-generated ones to boot.

If leagues use lists to their advantage, it would serve an important duality: expanding their brand and reach while satisfying fans' craving for as much quality information as they can handle on their team.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.