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Why Twitter Removed Favorites And Lists From The Twitter.com Sidebar (And Why Almost Nobody Cares)

On Friday Twitter made some design tweaks to Twitter.com, which included the removal of the Favorites and Lists links from the home page. Both of these used to sit in the right sidebar below the data about who you were following and who was following you. Not no more. They’ve been whacked.

Fear not – they’ve not been completely erased. You can still access your lists from the menu in your main panel, and all of the sidebar information is now housed on your profile page. Visit that and you get one-click access to favorites and lists, plus that all-important list tally at the top-right of the sidebar. And if you want to add a user to a list, simply visit their profile page – this option is now controlled by the same dropdown button that lets you block somebody.

But, here’s the thing: most people won’t have picked up on this change. Others won’t care. Which leads me to ask: in the bigger picture, is this decision by Twitter indicative of something more permanent?

Twitter casually announced the change via their @support profile.

Here’s the new-look homepage sidebar.

And on your profile.

And here’s how you add somebody to a list.

Notice how the add to list option is right next to the block option. Not exactly the smartest design choice. It’s all so very half-hearted, which I think tells us quite a lot.

So why has Twitter done this? Partly I think to make the place look tidier and to avoid repetition, but I’m also going to speculate about something else: Twitter is in the process of phasing these features out. Or at best, putting them very much on the back burner. Why? Because my gut tells me the vast majority of ‘normal’ Twitter folk don’t use these tools. And those normal people make up the bulk of the network – hundreds of millions of users.

Let me explain. For some people Twitter lists are really useful. I use ‘em a lot. If you’re a blogger or journalist and always looking out for the next big story then lists are even more useful, as they allow you to track dozens of users closely and easily. And if you’re one of those ‘power users’ who followers a bazillion profiles so almost a bazillion will follow you back, then lists are absolutely essential. Otherwise, how could you possibly keep up with the five or six people who actually care about you?

But for your common or garden Twitter user, lists aren’t that important. They don’t need to closely monitor every tweet of a select group of individuals. The average Twitter user (wisely) isn’t following tens of thousands of people. They’re following a couple of hundred, max. They don’t need to obsess over them. Things are fine. Really.

And while the Favorite functionality definitely has some fans, this move will go unnoticed by most users, simply because they weren’t using the feature in the first place. Hot scoop: favorites are mostly used by Twitter’s early adopters and the tech blogger crowd, certainly to any level that matters. Personally, I haven’t favorited anything since 2009. That’s not proof of anything, of course, but I’m going to say it again to see if it makes a difference: I haven’t favorited anything since 2009. See? Nobody is using it.

In all seriousness, from what I can tell by checking out the members of my network and what I hear from new users, most people don’t favorite all that much. Typically a tweet is favorited because it was funny or because the person wants to read a link when they have more time, but how often (honestly) do you go back and pour over your favorites? Much like anything on Twitter, there’s some serious time decay with this stuff.

And Twitter really missed a trick here. If favorited tweets were openly shared amongst your followers and ranked and measured accordingly, the mechanism could have been adopted all over the internet (via a Favorite button) and turned Twitter into a data powerhouse. Think Facebook’s like button meets Favstar, and you have a product and a system that would have had serious legs. Instead, we have something semi-useful that some people use from time to time. Why favorite when you can retweet? Why should you have to do both? Why would you? It’s all a bit meh – and Twitter knows this.

What’s weird about this is Twitter was talking about introducing a variation on the ‘like’ button way back in May 2009. It never happened. The best they could do was the wildly unpopular internal retweet. Back then, I wrote about how I wasn’t a fan of the use of ‘like’ for stamping your approval on something, because you don’t always like the thing you want to share. Sometimes it’s bad news, and liking it seems a serious breach of good etiquette.

But Facebook’s like has clearly caught on and now it’s just an accepted part of the internet consciousness. So while they may still try and build something to compete with this in the future, it certainly isn’t the Favorite functionality that we have now.

This is all speculation on my part. Not much more than a hunch, or a gut feeling. I do this a lot. I’ve been right before and I’ve been wrong before. Time will tell. But something about the way Twitter sees the Favorite and List functionality has shifted. There’s been a change, and they’re less important as they were before. And it seems very probable that this is because they’ve never been important to the very large, very important and very influential majority of the user base. They may not get rid of these features completely, but I suspect something else is coming along that will make them both redundant, and even easier to sweep under the rug.

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