"created_at":"Wed Jun 06 15:35:14 +0000 2007" (extracted from http://api.twitter.com/1/users/show.json?screen_name=scilib)
Closing in on four years on Twitter. I can't remember exactly, but I think I noticed people were talking about it more and more, on blogs and in person, so I decided to check it out. It took me about six months to figure out how I could use it, to understand what Twitter was for me. It has aspects of "social bookmarking that works" (that is, that actually shares bookmarks rather than just keeping them to yourself) as well as a social network maintenance layer - a way to keep in contact with people in your network, during the sometimes-long gaps between in-person conversations. It's also a way to get some understanding of people you have yet to meet, to discover a bit about their interests and personality.
It is not, exactly, a blog killer. But it has dramatically reduced the amount of routine news or links that I post. A bunch of factors led to a dramatic reduction in my blogging. The main one had nothing to do with Twitter - in June 2009 when I posted the blog is quiet and said it was because of "Reason I can't tell you which will be announced soon" it was because I had planned to move to scienceblogs.com. I was excited about the move. But then there was some minor setup... and I started second-guessing what I wanted to post, I was uncertain about what to say, now that I was outside of my own space. I started a few posts in draft, but I was really hesitant to do a completely new launch, on a new site. Whereas previously I would have had an idea and immediately fired up my browser, I no longer felt that I should just share anything, anytime. (This was nothing to do with ScienceBlogs, they were perfectly welcoming.) And so my momentum drained away, and my energies were all channeled entirely into Twitter. To the extreme that my posts went June 2009... August 2009... July 2010.
Meanwhile, my tweets are up to 500 or more a month, according to the (probably imperfect) stats gathered by TweetStats for my account.
What have a learned, from this long sejour entirely in Twitterland? First and foremost, I think one loses a lot by not blogging. Twitter can to some extent maintain a presence online, but it can't expand it or make substantial impact. Pretty much all of the opportunities that have come to me from sharing online came from sustained blog posting, from long-form sharing of my own ideas, not from tweeting or retweeting. If you want to share your ideas in a way that will generate substantial discussion and spark interest in a major way, you have to write in the long form. It's the content creators who are the top of the Internet pyramid - to have an impact you must be writing your ideas, narrating your work. Not just for others, but as importantly, to better understand yourself, to have an online archive of your thoughts and work over time.
Nick Charney puts it nicely
As a knowledge worker myself, I feel that my blog is one of my strongest assets: it helps me contextualize my thinking, forms a narrative, is searchable, can hyperlink to other sources, and allows for comments and debate.
From Briefing Notes to Govblogging - January 28, 2011
When I started a work blog in 2004, it was as simple as wanting to be able to google my own conference notes. The easiest way for me to make that happen was to just stick them in a blog. I had no idea it would become more than that, notes to myself.
Our communication channels are evolving continuously. In 2004 the library blogosphere was evolving rapidly, and my RSS reader was my daily go-to place to find out what was going on. Later, I found Friendfeed was a valuable addition, allowing additional conversation and sharing around a broader spectrum of material than just blog posts. I used delicious, but I never found it worked very well even as a personal archive - I was much more likely to find what I was trying to remember by trying some keywords in a search of my blog, than guessing what I might have used for tags in delicious, and it was pretty rare that someone would be monitoring delicious closely enough to pick up a link that I had posted.
Twitter does a much better job of "ambient awareness" in a few senses - it lets me know generally what major events are happening (such as the ongoing events in Egypt), amd it is also a good way for me to find links of interest in specific topic areas (for me: open data, government 2.0, library technology, scholarly publishing). But it's important to understand, this is my unique window on to Twitter. I have very carefully selected whom I want to follow (once I hoped to keep it to 200 people or less, now I am vowing to keep it under 500); I also go through my followers daily and block both blatant spammers and people that I think are coming from keyword searches that don't match my main content. Twitter for me is very much a curated experience - both from me in curating the information I want to see by selecting whom I follow, and in turn from that group, in the content they write and retweet.
There is a major problem though, which is a dramatic loss in findability. Twitter is designed as an ephemeral stream. And once you're following a substantial number of people, the river flows very quickly. I can retweet and favourite a lot faster than I can read. And once tweeted or favourited, Twitter doesn't make it easy to search, even to record for a long time what you have highlighted. I use Friendfeed to consume both my tweets and my favourites but it's not a great solution - its search is imperfect and it is in danger of disappearing entirely at any time (it was bought by Facebook and is no longer actively supported).
There are some dedicated tools, such as T-keeper and Archivist, I tend to use those specifically for recording event hashtag traffic though, rather than to capture all of my tweets. There are also services that will bookmark any link you tweet, but often these want read/write access to your Twitter stream, and I am very reluctant to grant write access to any app.
I would be interested in hearing what workflows people are using to keep track of their tweets and favourites so that they can go back and read things later - I imagine a lot of people are using Instapaper, but I haven't managed to integrate this into my workflow yet.
Another factor driving Twitter use is the fact that it is easily read/write on mobile. There are lots of good Twitter clients for mobile devices. On the iPhone I use Echofon, and on Blackberry the official Twitter app, which has some nice notification integration. As I use my iPhone a lot on transit, Twitter has provided an easy way to monitor what's going on, and to provide feedback.
Specifically in the Ottawa context, Twitter has been a powerful tool for keeping up with local events, reporting from those events, and connecting to attendees before and after. For example, the recent Third Tuesday about the NCC's use of social media was announced on Twitter, microblogged on Twitter using hashtag #3tyow, and has also been a catalyst for further conversations with Daniel Feeny (@feeny_d) who was the presenter. I actually worry about a digital divide in Ottawa, as those who are still using only mailing lists and blogs are missing out on a lot of the events and discussion that now are solely on Twitter.
Also, it's important to understand there are three quite different Twitter experiences: the web site, the mobile apps, and the desktop tools.
Twitter through the website itself is a somewhat limited experience - although more features are now easier to use and better exposed in the new user interface. It still won't let you post a retweet with a comment, or shorten your URLs for you, or help you post images. A Twitter web toolkit thus includes not only an open Twitter window, but e.g. bit.ly for URL shortening and e.g. Twitpic for picture posting - a rather awkward, manual integration. It's actually easier for me to post a link or a picture using Echofon, as there is a Safari "post to Echofon" bookmarklet, and built-in picture posting support.
Echofon (and other iPhone apps) also give visual indication of new @-messages and direct messages (DMs), unlike the web app. I probably use Echofon more than any other single iPhone app.
That being said, you only get the full power of Twitter with a desktop application like TweetDeck. Twitter is not just you and the network of followers and followees you have, it is global conversations. You can track these using Twitter searches that provide RSS feeds, but it is much easier to monitor them at a glance in a tool like TweetDeck (or the web-based HootSuite). For example, while I get information in my feed about open data from the people I follow, I also monitor the #opendata hashtag in TweetDeck, along with many others. Selecting hashtags of interest and monitoring them can be a great way to learn about a new topic and keep abreast of new developments. Don't forget you can use booleans, so you can e.g. monitor information about the three GC 2.0 core tools by using the search "gcpedia OR gcconnex OR gcforums".
Here's what I'm monitoring right now:
- gcpedia OR gcconnex OR gcforum OR gcforums
- #w2p - an Ottawa networking / information event mostly for GC employees - "Web 2.0 Practitioners"
- #goc3 - GC collaboration community
- #goc - Government of Canada in general
- #opendataottawa or #apps4ottawa - the Ottawa open data community and the just-completed contest
- #smbottawa - Social Media Breakfast Ottawa
- datacite - The data DOI service, provided by CISTI in Canada
- #gov2au - very active hashtag of Australian Gov 2.0 developments
- #gc20 - Government of Canada 2.0 and also the hashtag my group, the GC 2.0 Program Office uses, when appropriate
- #ottcafesci - The Cafe Scientifique that the Science & Technology Museum does (unfortunately not used by the other organisations in Ottawa that also do Cafe Scientifique events)
- #psi_policy - Public Sector Information Policy - another view on open data, mostly from a European perspective
- #SC2011 - the hashtag for the upcoming Ontario Library SuperConference
- #3TYOW - Third Tuesday Ottawa
- #resd - a just-completed Resource Discovery Day at Library and Archives Canada
- #mobileappsottawa - a recent mobile apps event in Ottawa
- #ottawahackathon - yesterday's Ottawa Google User Group hackathon
Like I said, a river of information. But you don't have to try to drink everything from the firehose. A good start is just to find the people and hashtags that are useful to you and start monitoring them, when you can - maybe even just check in once a day to get a sense of what's going on. How you use Twitter, and how often, can evolve from there. For myself, I was happy to have my deep immersion in Twitter for over a year, but I'm happy to be back blogging now as well.