That is the question which I have increasingly answered for myself lately, after an experiment that went surprisingly well.
Macdrifter brings up the topic of Twitter as RSS once again, and isn’t really hip on the idea. I know this is an old debate, but it’s still worthwhile, and the proliferation of Twitter apps which do lists increasingly well—such as Tweetbot, Twittelator Neue, and others that I know are on the horizon—is a testament to that. Plus, RSS isn’t social, and Google put what is probably the final nail in that coffin when it gutted Google Reader’s social features in the name of Google+. Twitter, on the other hand, is just a tad social, which can do wonders in the news reading and discovery departments.
Twitter lists are a really big deal if you want to stay on top of news you care about and be plugged into the news and sources your friends read, all in one place. I experimented with this a little while ago, and was surprised at how much I liked it. I went through my Google Reader feeds and folders, picked out my favorite feeds across a bunch of topics, then added their Twitter accounts to lists based on those same topics (I follow some of those accounts in my main timeline, but not all of them—a nice perk of the way Twitter and its lists work). Every story those sites publish gets sent to RSS and to their Twitter accounts, so I can read either way, and I’m not much concerned about reading on a mobile site versus the spartan RSS layout.
[Sidenote: To add someone to a list at Twitter.com: click someone's avatar, click the user icon next to the follow/unfollow button, then click Add or Remove from Lists. In Tweetbot: tap-hold any avatar, then tap Manage List Memberships.]
When it comes to checking on news, I usually roll through my main timeline first with Tweetbot, read a few stories linked by friends, and toss a few others into Pocket. Then I tap the “Timeline” header, pick one of my lists, and keep rolling. Rinse, repeat. It’s quite a fluid process, I don’t have to switch apps, and it’s easy to share something on any of my Twitter accounts. As I mentioned in my Macworld piece about dealing with Twitter overload, It’s also a great way to cut down on Twitter’s signal-to-noise ratio. Leave your Twitter client on a list and focus on just the tweets and news you want to hear for as long as you want.
When it comes to features, about the only thing I miss from using Reeder and Mr. Reader are easy sharing to services other than Twitter. Falling back on emailing stories works for me, but it’s admittedly not as polished. *cough* Tapbots, *cough*.
But there are some big advantages to using Twitter as an RSS replacement. Since I do a lot of reading on my iPhone and iPad, using Twitter lists for my news means that I get a fluid experience when trying out new Twitter clients, thanks to iOS 5′s built-in support for one or more Twitter accounts. Then there are some sites that publish a little extra commentary on Twitter above and beyond their linked stories—you can’t really do that in RSS. Some sites also use their Twitter accounts to be social and interact with readers, whether it’s simply answering questions or crowd-sourcing research and ideas for new stories. That’s great, and it makes RSS feel like reading news in a boring bubble all by myself.
One last benefit of Twitter lists, which I plan to take advantage of once I finish adding more of my RSS feeds to lists, is that they can be public or private (most of my lists are public. A few are not). I get requests often enough for my RSS feeds or good sources on one topic or another. I’m happy to answer if I can help at all, but I’d be lying if I said manually downloading a copy of my Google Reader OPML every now and then, and uploading it to my RSS feeds page is buckets of fun. Keeping my Twitter lists up to date cuts down on some work, and Twitter users can even subscribe to each others’ lists, which get automatically updated when the owner changes them. How awesome is that? Bonus points: people don’t have to juggle OPML files, and I don’t have to explain what they are or how to upload them into a reader.
Of course, not everyone will care about all or any these advantages. Some people just get used to the way they currently do things. But I’ve found Twitter lists to be quite useful, portable, pleasantly social, and wonderful for discovery. If you’ve ever been curious about their potential, I hope this can help.
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