Twitter Opaque During “Lists” Launch?

The rise of real-time social media has made us all appreciate the value of transparency, right?

Wrong.

BostInnovation has reason to believe that Twitter – the very gatekeepers of of the real-time revolution – was specifically and systematically opaque during the launch of its “Lists” feature last week.

Not only did Twitter potentially eliminate the word “Lists” from its “Trending Topics” on the day of the roll out, it also offered this “secret” new functionality to a brand new user ID BostInnovation created that day.

On Wednesday, October 28th, Twitter made good on it’s promise to roll out “Lists” to Twitter users. While the feature was tested beforehand, the morning of October 28th marked the day most of the Twitterati in Boston were greeted by Twitter’s new banner encouraging them to try “Lists.”

This is how they explained it:

“New! Lists. A great way to organize the people you follow and discover new and interesting accounts. (BETA)

Lists are timelines you build yourself, consisting of friends, family, co-workers, sports teams, you name it. You’re part of a small group receiving this feature, so don’t tweet about it yet!”

Tweets including the operative word then exploded onto BostInnovation’s tweet aggregator. Ensuing usage from curious Twitter users bogged down Twitter for everyone in the Twitterverse almost instantly, and disrupted our flow in ways we didn’t even witness during the tweet boons occurring after the deaths of  Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy, both of which were extremely disruptive events at BostInnovation.

Twitter remained coy about the “limited” release of the Lists functionality all day long.

At 1:54 am on the following morning, BostInno’s staff, searched the term “Lists” using Twitter’s search bar, finding that 60 tweets including the term had been posted in the eight minutes prior to 1:54. Then, we searched “NBA” – Twitter’s lowest “Trending Topic” word at the time. According to Twitter’s search results, just 54 tweets had gone out in the eight minutes between 2:10 and 2:18 am…

A new Twitter account we set up following our search test on the morning of the 29th was offered the exact same banner announcing that it had been specially selected to try “Lists” as well. That newly-created handle was @UncKrunk.

We understand that Twitter’s search is problematic at best, and admit that this quick test wasn’t done at the exact same time. However, it seems plausible that Twitter meant to downplay the major roll out of “Lists.”

So why keep users in the dark?

Hypothetically, Twitter was sneaky about this launch both in an effort to protect itself from negative fallout if there were problems with the functionality, and as a way of allowing interest in the new functionality to be prefaced by a feeling that the user was somehow singled out for this special functionality.

In short, it seems likely that Twitter lied to its users on October 28th.

We’d like to think that being more transparent – being more open and honest about who you are and what you’re doing – in online venues is of crucial importance if you hope to gain the trust of your online contacts. Twitter may have just demonstrated that the old trolling and lying that used to occur in the days of the AOL Chat Room explosion may still be something we’re toting around with us.

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