Skip to main content

Twitter lists and real-time journalism

By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says there's money to be made with Twitter lists.
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says there's money to be made with Twitter lists.
  • Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore: There's money to be made on Twitter lists
  • A new feature allows Twitter users to create lists of people to follow
  • The micro-blogging site is buzzing about this addition
  • Cashmore: Lists help cut the noise out of Twitter; and list curators add value

Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He is writing a weekly column about social networking and tech for

London, England (CNN) -- The Twitter community is abuzz this week about the site's new "Lists" feature, which allows users to create collections of interesting people to follow on the micro-messaging service.

From lists of sports stars to comedians to political pundits, Twitter has provided its members with the tools required to splice a torrent of updates into a series of relevant, topic-based streams.

In doing so, the social networking startup may have hit upon the long-overdue cure to information overload and birthed a new breed of editor: the real-time Web curator.

Drowning in data

Approximately 25 million Tweets are posted every day; more than 5 billion have been created since Twitter's launch.

Facebook users are even more prolific in aggregate: Forty-five million updates are posted there daily. In May, the last date for which we have data, YouTube announced that 20 hours of video is uploaded to its servers every minute. That's more than three years of content being uploaded to YouTube daily.

As the barriers to media production fall -- cameras in virtually every cell phone, video cameras in iPods, text messaging as a publishing platform -- this content tsunami is growing ever taller.

The friend filter

An obvious antidote: use your friends as a filter.

Google's new Social Search allows users to add their social networking profiles to a Google account and see search results filtered and prioritized based on their circle of friends.

Through integration with Facebook, meanwhile, Web sites are allowing users to create personalized experiences. Connect your Facebook account with social news site, for instance, and your existing friends become a filter for the most interesting web links.

From personal to professional

Much like blogging, however, link-sharing on the Web has evolved beyond the personal. While most Twitter users stick to the standard "What Are You Doing?" fare, a growing number spend much of their time collating links and pointing their followers to relevant, timely, topic-based information.

Tracking the pulse of PR in the digital age? You'll probably want to follow Edelman Digital's Steve Rubel, who scours the Web for topical links and shares his findings on Twitter and FriendFeed.

Seeking insights into the mainstream media's transition to the Web? Follow Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor, podcaster and media pundit.

Want to know what venture capitalists are reading these days? Try Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, who shares links and insights daily with his 35,000 Twitter followers.

See a list of CNN's anchors on Twitter

Next up: collate dozens of these experts into a topic-based list, and -- voila! -- your hand-picked editorial team extracts the signal from a wall of noise.

Most of these link gatherers have "real" jobs, you'll notice; I see no reason why that should remain the case. In the attention economy, wherein the scarce resource is time and the abundant one is content, those who effectively allocate our attention create value.

Where value is created, it follows that money can be made. The inevitable outcome: Web curators are not just real-time but full-time.

The rise of real-time journalism

Possibly we don't need a new breed, however, just an adaptation.

Journalists, it would seem, are well-placed to capitalize on the trend, since directing an audience's attention via links is not materially different to editing a newspaper or magazine.

Perhaps media companies already see this emergent future: The New York Times has created a Twitter list of all its staff, and the Los Angeles Times has set about categorizing Twitter celebrities.

See CNN International's Twitter list

The Web-centric Huffington Post has gone a step further by embedding Twitter Lists on its Web site to create hubs of real-time updates.

For those cast adrift in a sea of content, good news: A "curation" economy is beginning to take shape, tweet by tweet, list by list.