Twitter's Staff is Growing Fast, But Has a Dangerous Shortage of Power Users (Infographics)

Twitter's hundreds of millions of members include casual and professional users with a wide range of interests. There's no better way to dive deep into real-time discussion on a particular topic than by building or subscribing to a Twitter List made of people focused on a particular field.

This super-powerful feature of Twitter has been available for more than 18 months but remains severely limited and underdeveloped. Users aren't allowed to create more than 20 lists per account and each list is limited to 500 members. Those are just the limitations - there's a world of other possibilities that could be developed if Twitter HQ was really as excited about Lists as it ought to be. Unfortunately, as you can see from the infographic above, Twitter's hundreds of employees don't include any power users of Lists. Earlier this month Twitter's own List of staff members hit the 500 person limit, though! Might that be an impetus for the company to change things for everyone?

Infographic above by data viz pro Michael J. Rubillo. Graphs below by stats wonk Dimitry Lukashov. Thanks, guys!

Three weeks ago we did some data extraction from the official Twitter List of employees to see how much the people who work there use lists. My conclusion: Twitter staff does use Lists, but not very much.

70% of the staff is subscribed to at least one list, but 30% isn't. Those who are average 3.6 list subscriptions each.

44% of the people on Twitter's staff haven't created any lists! Maybe if they all created a lot of lists they would agitate internally for the list curation interface to be better than the day it was when it launched.

I talk with people on Twitter who have hit their 20 List Per Account limit frequently and we're all frustrated by it. The workaround of course is just to create a new account. That's not an elegant solution, though.

How much sympathy are we likely to get from Twitter itself? Not much. One single person on staff has hit the limit of 20 lists per account. And he tells me he was just creating Lists titled one, two, three etc. while he was testing the error message that appears when you create the max!

Only 6 other people out of 440 on the list three weeks ago had created 15 or more lists.

Just 3 weeks ago there were only 440 people on the Twitter Team list, and now it's maxed out at 500. That's 15% growth over 3 weeks! Could Twitter be growing its team that fast? And if so, what are all these new people doing?

Good Twitter Lists

Good Twitter lists are a great thing to subscribe to, to put in your Tweetdeck, to enjoy as a chapter of Flipboard, in a box or with a fox.

My Data Journalists Twitter List, for example, has 161 people on it and is subscribed to by 115 people. List members have an average Klout score (fwiw) of 46 and subscribers average 41. So I put together a list of experienced leaders on a topic and a group of less experienced but intellectually curious people are now following that list as a dynamic collection of topical updates. Awesome!

That's what it's all about: thinking strategically about the structure of Twitter as a service and making maximum use of it to satisfy your intellectual curiosity or work needs for real-time information.

Other lists I like? Check out: Women in Tech, Top Travel Tweeters, Corporate Social Media Strategists (background), Josh Marshall's list of Pollsters, @foursquare/team, Potters and Ceramists (great in Flipboard) and Streaming Music Industry (background, which is a general tutorial on building super lists)

Two years ago this month the Twitter team had a mere 49 people on it - it's grown 10X in two years. At that time I wrote a blog post titled How Twitter's Staff Uses Twitter (And Why It Could Cause Problems), arguing that Twitter's own staff and its executive team in particular, didn't include any power users that could advocate for the development interests of power users at large.

Then CEO Evan Williams told me while I researched that article that "there are lots of different ways to use Twitter" and that he doesn't believe it's a good idea to follow more than 500 or 1000 people. Well, that's all well and good for him - but what about the thousands of people who advocate for Twitter's growth into all kinds of different business sectors and who use the service very differently? Ev today has created 3 Lists and follows 3 other Lists.

As the company has exploded in size, would it have been so hard to hire one or two people in the marketing department at least, if not in product development, who like to push the system to its limits in order to get from it what they can?

I emailed Twitter about these latest numbers we'd run and asked for comment, but the only thing I got was a reply that the analysis was "remarkable." Thanks, Twitter, but I don't really think it is remarkable. I think it's very logical, the kind of first level of analysis that a person would do upon seeing a huge teaming set of real-time, social, semi-structured and programmatically available data.

Come on, Twitter - could you please give us power users some more support? Two years ago Twitter's executive team didn't follow the creators of Twitter for iPhone (nee Tweetie) or Tweetdeck on mobile, but they did follow a bunch of celebrity bores. Then they ended up spending millions of dollars acquiring those two companies. Perhaps they should have been paying more attention to early adopter, power users of their own platform? Perhaps they should have a few on staff and give the rest of us some love? They say in technology that today's power users define tomorrow's standard use case...but the platform's evolution can't help but be hindered if those power users and their use cases aren't supported.

What will happen now that Twitter's own Team list is maxed out at 500 members? Hopefully limits will be lifted for all of us - and maybe just maybe someday the platform will be developed further in the kinds of directions that this powerful feature called Lists is pointing.