I've been getting a lot of questions lately by friends and colleagues who wonder how and why I use Twitter. Most of these people seem to assume that I'm tweeting what I had for breakfast (or hoping to find out what the CHNM staff had for breakfast). To these people social media is a place where you post pictures of your drunk friends from last night, divulge far too much personal information and take tests that tell you which type of car you are.
There are certainly users of both Facebook and Twitter that have propelled these stereotypes along, but there are definitely good, professional and educational uses for Twitter. One of the best examples of this is the digital humanities community.
I've decided to only use Twitter as a professional learning tool. I don't seek out social friends, am not helping Brit reach 1 million followers (even if there might be a pair of concert tickets in it for me) and actively "unfollow" people who send throngs of breakfast related messages. That has left me with a small but active group of people who provide a steady stream of helpful and insightful information to me every day. Here are the types of tweets I find most helpful as a researcher and digital humanist:
1) Conference Streaming
These live, on the go tweets come from people attending a conference or public lecture. They provide an outline of what a person is presenting, along with interesting excerpts from the audience or thoughts the tweeter may have. Often, these tweets include links to the presenter's slides or notes. While not nearly as good as attending a presentation yourself, this is a big first step in reducing the ephemeral nature of the podium speech and disseminating it to those of us who could not attend, or might not think to attend.
2) Interesting & Relevant Links
With so many people writing in so many places, it's impossible to notice everything. Tweets routinely point me to blog posts, journal articles and webpages relevant to my research - as long as you're following the right people.
3) Finding other Digital Humanists
Around last year at this time I was pretty sure Bill Turkel and Dan Cohen were the only two digital humanists on the planet. Through Twitter, I've found a few dozen more and have stumbled upon research that has both amazed me and prompted new avenues for my own study. For those twitterers interested in Digital Humanities, make sure you check out those listed under #digitalhumanities on http://wefollow.com .
4) Project Updates
Some of the people I follow aren't people at all. Many organizations create twitter accounts for their projects / institutions and send out tweets to let people know of upgrades / upcoming events. It's easy to go overboard with these types of tweets, so I have to say I always appreciate those organizations who exercise discretion and only tweet about significant news.
Need a second opinion? Looking for a piece of software that does something obscure? I've found plenty of both by sending out a tweet and waiting for the expertise of my followers to kick in with suggestions.
And the last thing I have found it useful for is getting my own message out. A few weeks ago I posted a message on this blog about my Zotero translator guide and walked away. Within an hour, twitterers has noticed my post and tweeted it across the twittersphere. Over the next couple days I received a few hundred visitors, directly because of the tweets and the internet had been seeded with links (in more than one language) pointing people to the resource I had created. If I had sought traditional, print based forms of publishing, I'd probably still be waiting months for the presses to roll.
Twitter lets me keep up to date with research and developments amongst people with like interests. If done prudently, you can avoid the drunk photos, tests about what car you are and information about what everyone had for breakfast.
Incidentally, I had an apple cinnamon toaster's strudel this morning. And on Mondays, the whole staff of CHNM eats bagels. Ahhh, how I miss those bagels.
This sounds like a good prescription for how to use Twitter as a professional tool. I've only started to dabble in Twitter recently. I'm interested to see what it will be like one year from now. Will Twitter become a common webtool, like email, or will it slip into disuse, like fax?
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