Facebook does better than Twitter lists (they don’t enforce a power law)

I’ve already built a half-dozen groups on my Facebook profile (groups is a new feature that Facebook announced this morning). In my experience they are Twitter lists done right.

Twitter lists always had a lot of promise. Look at my lists. I have lists of venture capitalists. Lists of entrepreneurs. Lists of executives. Lists of journalists. Lists of pundits. Lists of companies. And more.

But over the last year since Twitter shipped its lists feature I’ve noticed a few problems.

1. Subscribing to, er, following, a list doesn’t do anything to your main feed.
2. A list can only have 500 members. One problem, I know about 800 executives already, and I’m discovering new ones every day. So, if, say, Steve Ballmer were to join Twitter and I wanted him on the list I’d have to remove someone already on the list.
3. I can have no more than 20 lists. I already have 20 lists, so if I were to keep a “executive A-F” list and another one for “G-Z” I’d have to put that on a new Twitter account. That doesn’t work.
4. No one can send a message to other people who are on the list. In fact, you might be on lots of lists and people could be talking to you but you’ll have no clue about that.
5. No way to DM or chat with other people on the list.

Now compare to Facebook’s new Groups.

First, listen to Mark Zuckerberg talk to me about the new features (Groups is one of three new features Facebook announced this morning — in the interview Zuck goes into depth about the groups feature after he talks about the other two features).


But then consider just how much better Facebook’s groups are than Twitter’s lists.

They don’t have any of the above issues. That’s all great, but on Twitter there’s a power law that’s enforced.

Let’s say you are a hot new tech blogger, for instance. How can you get on my list? You can’t. I’ve filled up my list. So, until you convince me to kick someone else off, you won’t get on. That’s a power law that’s being enforced. Needlessly, too.

But even better, all my Facebook groups are now open to members to invite other people onto (the group founder has to change the settings to allow that). For instance, I have a Tech news and bloggers group. I didn’t invite half the people who are already on the list onto it. Zuckerberg explains how that’s controllable in our interview.

Everyone invited on can talk with each other. That’s very cool. Something that Twitter groups can’t do. That is an anti power law feature. Yeah, I, as administrator, can remove people, but generally I’m learning about some new people who friends of mine like. That is massively cool. I wish that could happen on Twitter. Or, at least, that I had a choice to make that happen on Twitter because there’s no way I can know every tech journalist/blogger in the world. Not to mention every VC, every executive, every pundit, every event manager, etc etc.

Now, take this into a smaller group setting. What about a family group? Well, I don’t know all of Maryam’s cousins who live in Tehran. So, if I had a Twitter list, it would be woefully incomplete. But on Facebook she can start a group and I can add to it. So can every member of it. That is massively cool, even for a family group. For an industry group, or a company group, that’s even more important.

Anyway, Facebook gets this social stuff at a level that most don’t. Listen to how Zuckerberg talks about the experience of me adding him to a group. It’s a nuanced view and one that goes way beyond what I hear from Twitter and Google. Apple? They have no clue. Nokia and Microsoft? No clue either.

Why is Zuck king of the social world? Well, start a group and we’ll talk about it!


43 thoughts on “Facebook does better than Twitter lists (they don’t enforce a power law)

  1. It is amazing to see how Facebook has picked up so many things from Twitter and implemented them better than Twitter. Twitter on the other hand, just fails to improve. Haven’t seen any major innovation on Twitter since it started.


      1. New Twitter is nice. It’s just that it’s so little innovation and even then it isn’t done completely. I still see ugly old Twitter UI here and there even though I’m on the new Twitter.


      2. New twitter shows a lot of promise. Moreover with @DickC as the new CEO. We can expect new things to come. Kinda looking forward to a whole new experience.

        Meanwhile facebook is smart because they are constantly looking at their competitors and continue to innovate.


  2. Waiting for the functionality. I asked to join your tech journo group because it is so far the only one I can even see. I thought I heard one fo the FB execs say that if added to a group, the group functionality will then be available to that user. So add me? 🙂


    1. I can’t add you. I am not your friend on Facebook, for one. For two, I have no idea who you are, and right now I’m adding people I know, who then can add you. So, do you know someone who is my friend who is a journalist/tech blogger that I can invite in first?

      In fact, I just went an looked and you aren’t a tech blogger at all. At least not that I can figure out from looking at the blog you linked here, so I won’t be one to invite you into a tech blogger and journalist group. Sorry.


      1. Scob,

        Is this one of the weakness of facebook group? Lets say I am a new tech blogger and I don’t have a connection to you, or any other bloggers who are in the group.

        How do I follow the conversation or get connected to the group? Should I add people who are in the group and try to get invited? Not tested the new group feature yet. Not even sure if I got it.



      2. You can follow the conversation by visiting the page (my groups are public, but not all are). Not sure if you can get notifications if you aren’t a member of the group, though.


      3. Robert, since u have the new groups functionality can u check if u can still do what the old groups could do? Can u create a group that can be joined by anyone?


      4. Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to waste your time. I just wanted to see if you even could add me, as you’re the only person I know with the group feature yet. I am not a tech journo.

        It’s interesting that I can see that group, and in fact since I clicked the “add me” or request invite button on that group, it shows up in the list of my regular, old-fashioned groups, but there seems to be no way to remove it from that list. I can’t leave the group, but am not in the group anyway. I can just read your conversations, since you set it to open.

        I still have no other new functionality, but it’s strange that this group you linked here is in some sort of feature limbo.


  3. So true. And the problem is no 3rd party dare fix it as they have dumped all over their partners.

    The best option I’ve seen is TweelML


    Someone needs to build a cool list merging/deduping tool.

    I’d like to see list than transscend LinkedIn , Twitter & FB.


  4. Finally folks are realizing the folly of the Twitter model. Twitter has always felt like standing in the middle of a stadium trying to listen to different people in the crowd while while everybody’s talking.

    Twitter is too committed its model, it hasn’t evolved to match the needs of users.

    Twitter has always been like this, but tech pundits (and celebs) have been trying evangelize it for years. I think privately they probably hoped it would one day become what they really wanted.

    But now they’re finally starting to see that the emperor has no clothes.


    1. Well, mostly today, yes, I’m comparing the process of creating the lists. But, that brings the functionality tomorrow (IE, the content). And I agree they are nothing like each other. I like how Facebook did it a lot more.


      1. So far I am liking them very much as well. Lots of stuff missing from a full fledged groups product but close enough and it has the graph right there.


      2. In your article you claim, “Everyone invited can talk with each other. That’s very cool. Something that Twitter groups can’t do.”

        You can actually do this on Twitter with the help of a third party client – Grouptweet. This is a much more appropriate comparison to Facebook’s groups as opposed to Twitter lists. Sure its not as robust, but the basic premise of being able to communicate amongst group members in one central setting is accomplished.

        In fact, when looking at the 5 problems you identified with Twitter Lists, Grouptweet essentially solves all of them. Check it out, I think you might enjoy the service.


      3. Full disclosure: I recently purchased Grouptweet in hopes to increase its functionality and turn it into a more robust Groups for Twitter application that will encompass all of these features in a more straightforward and easier to understand manner. Specifically, to directly address the shortcomings and limitations with Twitter Lists as we currently know them.

        The current Grouptweet platform operates entirely on the back-end and is not very user friendly for anyone but seasoned Twitter users.


  5. Twitter as a hose of people’s thoughts and links and comments works fine for me because I use their list feature to follow specific folks for specific topics. I don’t have to be “friends” w/them to do this. It’s like my personalized radio station and I’ve curated my broadcast to what these peeps have to say. Some of these peeps might not even know they’re in my list. For example, I track a list patents and copyright issues (http://twitter.com/direwolff/patents-and-copyright) as well as one privacy issues (http://twitter.com/direwolff/privacy-list). That’s very useful to me and I’ve yet to find the Facebook equivalent to doing this. I also maintain more than one Twitter account for my various personae, which only really works with a pseudonynous model. Facebook doesn’t support that concept.

    Some times I wish we could just appreciate what each of these services brings rather than trying to ascribe their respective capabilities to the other. They’re not the same and each supports different communications models. Interactions on Twitter are more like those of going to a conference and interacting w/people you’ve heard of, admire, know somewhat, but want to engage in areas of common interest. Facebook remains for me, the place that I prefer interacting w/those I know well and want to be more meaningfully connected to. Both have their place.


  6. Robert, you clearly don’t know what ‘power law’ means. It’s a kind of statistical distribution, not a rule about power. A power law can still apply to the distribution fo the number of group members if there is an upper limit to the members fo the group; it becomes more obvious when there isn’t a limit.


    1. I know http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_law but such limits ENSURE that a statistical distribution happens because you can’t keep the world flat in such a system. I MUST give distrubution to popular folks if I want to keep my lists as relevant as possible. In Facebook world I can add more people. There still might be a distrubution, but it’ll be flatter.


  7. One thing that’s interesting about Facebook groups: even if I’m not part of a particular group – for whatever reason – I can still witness the discussions taking place. Participation is ideal, but it’s wonderful that there’s an option to just be a spectator.


  8. I think that chrish341 got the essence… it should be all about providing good value to customers. Twitter thinks of itself as a service provider instead of a customer satisfier. It wants to provide a platform for short blurbs and an api that people can use – which is as brilliant as any other service or platform that people can write apps for. The problem is that is internally-focused, not at all customer-focused. It seems like a company interested in looking in a corporate mirror and looking cool. In that, they’ve succeeded, but they should ask themselves… “Selves, how can we provide more and better services to our current customers, attract new customers without losing anyone” When customers feel like they are “standing in the middle of a stadium trying to listen to different people in the crowd while everybody’s talking” – those customers are not going to be loyal for long.

    When chrish341 says that “Twitter … hasn’t evolved to match the needs of users” he could be describing Xanga, MySpace, AOL, Yahoo or a dozen other techie-feeling, dot commy type companies.

    I have high hopes for Twitter with its new new design, and under new management and all… It has tremendous following, and a hugely active customer base. Go Twitter! (but be quick, or your fate will be 140 characters-fast)


  9. It is so obvious that it is almost painful.
    They need to work on their list feature big time. Open up the lists, add all the curating magic you talked about in the past, add DataSift capabilities, display options a la Flipboard and Paper.li and with the fitting domain names you can build a world class realtime publishing network never seen before.


  10. I love the way there is always ‘one problem’ because you can only add ten zillion users! If you were a car test driver you’d be complaining that there’s a problem with the airbag and crumple zone, which failed to save the life of the driver, who took it over a cliff….



  11. Apples & oranges. Twitter will most likely adapt to the shortcomings mentioned (some of which are features!), without forcing people into Facebook’s uncompromising model of more noise and less boundaries. It’s about efficiency. It’s what Twitter’s good at.


    1. Just what I was thinking. Apples and oranges. Twitter lists are great for what Twitter is good at: sharing news and information. Facebook has friend lists for the same purpose. Facebook Groups is an entirely different animal. If someone’s trying to use Twitter lists for interacting with the people on those lists, I think they’re missing the point of lists… and of Twitter itself, really.

      That said, Robert does make some good points about the limitations of Twitter lists in terms of the number of lists you can create and the number of users you can put on them.


  12. So I think this is better placed here than on that funny new Facebook group.

    Three big problems that I don’t think “just unfriend them!” solve.

    1) Just as I don’t give a crap what most of my real friends (the ones I won’t delete) say on Facebook on a daily basis, I also don’t give a crap who they think I am/what categories they think I should be in. I REALLY don’t give a crap who else they think should be in the group I don’t want to be in. And so on. Basically, I can see a few groups of close friends developing based on shared interest, whether it’s going out on weekends, science, tech, etc. But as they grow as more people are added, they become useless for the same reason that my current list of friends is useless: for 90% of the people, I don’t care. This problem doesn’t go away even if I do “clean my social graph,” as you rightly put it. I think this will be fine for smaller self-contained groups like study groups, office groups, etc., but for public groups or the group you’re trying to build in this post it becomes absolutely ghastly and recreates the problem it’s trying to solve.

    2) Let’s take the example you talk about in this post: your tech/blogger group. Some cool stuff has come out of it so far, and that’s great. But then you got a comment on this very post quite hilariously asking you to add the commenter (some random person I assume) to your notable tech/blogger group. Obviously that person shouldn’t be in that group, but why? You gave two reasons: Because you searched them and found they weren’t worthy of being included, and because they aren’t friends with any of your friends. The second reason I find to be completely invalid. Those are just the rules of the game, and they don’t really make sense in the context of “the social graph” because it’s perfectly possible to make a real friend with someone by talking to them about a subject you’re both passionate about.

    So then you Google the person, and you find they don’t know anything about tech. They run a crappy blog. They shouldn’t be in the group. But how do you know? Not because of the social graph, but because you judged them in context. The same thing might happen if you met the same person at a party and decided not to invite them to your tech book club because of what they said. It has nothing to do with who invited them to the party, it has to do with how your interests match up and how credible the person is. This is nearly impossible to do on Facebook without friending the person first, which you wouldn’t want to do anyway.

    3) Facebook groups is abstracted from labeling software (photo tagging). In the case of photos, this works because people’s images actually do, concretely exist in photos (more or less). But when you start labeling people themselves, you run into the problem that the reference point isn’t something concrete, it’s a person who should be in control of what labels are applied to them. I think this is the ethical point that Facebook has raised so often: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Labeling of others (even inside your clean social graph) can be dangerous.

    Moreover, labeling is not the same as grouping. Grouping, as I discuss in the post I linked on the Facebook group, implies conscious and approved self-exclusion, something that the labeling by others does not achieve, which is why I find it phenomenally hard to see how my social graph will work with Facebook groups. How do I know if others will accept being in the group I want to define? What if I disagree with another person’s membership in a group? These are two more fundamental principles of groups that the new feature completely ignores outside of exclusion: self-identification with the rest of the group and acceptance of the group. Without these, the social groups Zuckerberg’s trying to graph just don’t exist.

    Can’t wait for your thoughts.


  13. I use Buzz/Reader everyday to keep up w the the SM intelligencia ie. you, Louis Gray, Steve Rubel, Jesse Stay, Matt Cutts, Dewitt and many more.. I came here from a Buzz link btw. Sorry to say I don’t get the signal to noise ratio I want from Facebook yet, though I did hear about my aunt’s vacation just fine. Also thanks for bringing your Twitter into Buzz, I no longer lose your tweets in my Twitter stream.


  14. Good post,Robert. But when I “Add as Friend” (you,Robert!) on Facebook then I get “This Request Can’t Be Sent.Do you know this user personally? To prevent misuse of Facebook, this request can’t be sent. To learn more, please visit the Help Center. If you believe you’re seeing this message in error, you can report the problem.”FAIL!:(


  15. I guess Twitter’s goal has always been to keep things extremely simple. Facebook new gadgets are part of a much more complicated mechanism, with privacy settings and whatnot, Twitter is much barebone platform so I doubt the two can be compared effectively.
    However, I do agree that numeric limits to lists and list sizes are probably a thing of the past which, hopefully, will be increased or even better be removed at all, with time.


  16. If you’re interested Robert visit Christian Mayaud’s old blog about Social Networks and Social Network Analysis for three comparative and linked stories that you might find interesting to use to compare if Facebook’s ‘groups idea’ is really going to have any value in the long run, and as I see already, perhaps in the short term, based on my reading of, http://www.sacredcowdung.com/archives/_social_media_/highperformance_social_networking/
    Christian Mayaud is a very high profile individual who has founded many companies and has been interviewed by Forbes and Fortune magazines amongst others (just so you and your readers know he is) and a personal friend of mine for over 8 years. I hope this adds value to the discussion and raises questions too. I personally would like to see everything working the best it can work, just as you, Robert are doing the best that you can do and I admire you for that as I have said before.


  17. While I like the ability to have small, private groups, the open add-in invitation policy in dangerous. For example, we are in the middle of some hotly contested elections in the United States. So-called “friends” could easily add pollsters, politicians, campaigners, etc. to Facebook groups that have nothing to do with their political affiliation, choice of religion or sexual orientation. Of course, these same problems apply to everyone else. The potential for litigation is endless unless these privacy holes are corrected.


  18. Sorry Scoble, I deactivated my Facebook account Wednesday. In less than two weeks it’ll be gone forever! I feel a lot better. It’s become too mainstream.

    At the same time, I’m finding yesterday’s interview with Mark Zuckerberg fascinating, and am watching how this list thing is evolving.


  19. Robert

    I spent all day yesterday on interviews and writing about Maco / Micro communities. This is an acknowledgement from Facebook that

    1. a Page is not a community
    2. Communities (all my friends) are made of smaller, micro communities (Groups)

    I agree – Twitter still has not created smaller social spaces for micro community. Consider how a Facebook thread is a mico- and temporal- community.



  20. I hear you Robert, but Twitter’s openness is just so much better – nearly everyone can see nearly everything instead of hiding behind ‘friendship walls’ – I mean, I know parts of the Facebook public want it, but it just limits the boundaries of creativity and sharing so much. I still prefer tweets to status updates, regardless of twitter’s slow progress and criticism of its UI


  21. Twitter doesn’t require you to seek permission to friend anyone. FB does. You are comparing apples to oranges. Even Twitter claims that Twitter is not a social-networking service, so why would you look for groups there? Besides, if power law is your issue, than Twitter should look into it.


  22. Maybe this is one step closer to people starting to share content into facebook and have wider conversations there. Today it is really just friend conversations in the majority – maybe facebook will fully roll out its follower capabilities so that we can shift there.


  23. Maybe this is one step closer to people starting to share content into facebook and have wider conversations there. Today it is really just friend conversations in the majority – maybe facebook will fully roll out its follower capabilities so that we can shift there.


  24. I have no idea who you are, and right now I’m adding people I know, who then can add you. So, do you know someone who is my friend who is a journalist/tech blogger that I can invite in first?


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