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Exploring Twitter

Another Web 2.0 Tool

For someone who does not particularly like writing I sure do write a lot.  Looking at my first post and then at my most recent post I realize that things are getting out of hand.  Evidently I should be taking to Twitter’s 140 character limit like a bird to the air.  And I just may… some day.  But for now I feel more like a lame duck.

I have had just over two months now to get into the Twitter swing but my experience so far with it has not been highly rewarding.  As I mentioned in a previous post I live in a relatively small compound where everyone is within a 5 minute drive of each other.  We work together, socialize together, and see each other at the gym, dining hall, or grocery store.  Although I have asked around and even searched through twitterlocal.net and twellow.com I have found no one here or in our district that uses Twitter. We have avid texters, emailers, and Skype and Vonage users but no Twitterers. I did find a group of expats from Saudi Arabia.  I have clicked to follow them but as it was a locked group my status with them is pending.  I have also discovered that none of my main social group outside of Saudi use Twitter either.  As I have explained before, I tend to not interact online much with those I have little or no connection with.  As a result I have sent or received very few Tweets.  However I have been “eaves-dropping” on the twitter conversations of people with whom I have no real connection ..  I have gained some helpful links from some people’s tweets and followed parts of discussions but have not joined in.  At times some of the users write such cryptic tweets that without context I have not been able to understand them. 

One of our goals in using Twitter has been to follow people that we were assigned to follow and then add others of our own.  Although I have not had great success building up my social contacts one of the tools I used to match myself up with others of like mind was a service called Whoshouldifollow.com.  It assessed the people I was following and compiled a list of other similar users.  For me it suggested a variety of Twitter users who are somehow related to libraries but I’m sure that if I had included connections to hobbies or people in a local area that it would have matched me up with them.  With another service called Tweecha you can purchase followers. $29.99 buys you 500 followers in a week or $2999.99 buys you 100000 followers within a year.  I’m not sure how they do it or how loyal your following would be but businesses might find this a helpful service.  In addition to these services and applications there are a plethora of others designed by third party users to work with Twitter. 

I like staying current with the news so have chosen to follow news organizations.  The tweets themselves do not have the news item but they include a link to where the story is. I recognize that the on-the-go nature of Twitter makes it a handy way to get very current information particularly if one has a mobile device to access the tweets.  Has this feature benefited me? I do find some interesting links to ideas but, as I don’t have a mobile device, I have preferred to access them through Google Reader where they are not mixed in with the other less interesting tweets. 

As you can tell, my initial impression of Twitter was that it is simply another social networking tool used to chat with friends; however, I am discovering that beyond chatting Twitter has other features that Facebook and email don’t have.  With Twitter’s 140 character limit, tweets are appropriate in size and format to allow them to be sent and received from many platforms including hand-held devices. With these other tools, like Facebook and email, you have to be logged into their page or email account to send or receive messages. (I have recently learned that Facebook has some ability to now interact with handheld devices but I’m not sure of the details yet.) In fact each tweet contains a bit of information about what platform it was sent from.  This is a great advantage in convenience and makes the tweets much more dynamic and on the go.  As Twitter in Plain English puts it “Real life happens between Blog posts and emails and now there is a way to share.”  I have also seen many tweets where people are promoting themselves in some way.  They are either pointing out a product or talking about their blog and alerting others to a recent blog update.  Celebrities are also in on the self-promotion act. Although I have not read one I do know that celebrities are using Twitter to garner a larger fan base.  However, for me, at this stage, this is far more social chit chat than I am interested in.  Email continues to serve me well and friends know that I will get back to them eventually.  If they need me sooner they know how to get a hold of me. I must add, however, that having listened to the Elluminate session with Mack Male and having done all this reading about it, I think I will reserve judgment on Twitter.  Perhaps in a different life situation Twitter may become more useful for me.

Here are a few miscellaneous but helpful hints, courtesy of randsinrepose.com:

1. Twitter is what you make of it.

2. Instead of answering “What are you doing?” in the standard way answer it as “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”  “I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing.” becomes “Avoiding a meeting I hate.”  – more interesting.

3. Instead of retweeting just content add a bit of what you think or know about it.  This adds more connection and more discussion.

4. Follow people not content.

5. An idea + shaping + a bit of yourself + sharing it with others + them doing the same = artful tweeting.

6. Twitter is more about being social and less about being a tool.

7. What you read on Twitter is only as interesting as the people you follow.

The Twitter community feels open and welcoming and everyone seems familiar.  It is a place where people can come together and make connections based on shared interests.  With its short format it is not an intimidating place to meet and chat with others.  And if you feel up to it you can connect with other users in your area and all get together for coffee.  I am sure if I was in a different area I could put out the word and join up with others for a run or a ride or any other activity.  I kind of like that personal touch.  Twitterlocal.net and Quotably.com are two applications that can help a person make connections with others.  Although for now Twitter, as a social tool, is not a great fit for us, it does have some other interesting possible applications in our situation.    On April 30, 2009 Twitter added a search bar and a side bar called Trending Topic that turned the tool into a powerful search engine.  In addition to finding people and information one is now able to find out what is going on in the world in real time.  These combined with the original platform have opened up a number of the following possibilities using Twitter.  (Wikipedia, subtitle Interface)

1. Because I am doing graduate studies in a somewhat isolated situation, Twitter has potential as a personal learning tool. 

– So far I have found some useful links to documents and news items which could be valuable to me in my studies. 

– It also seems that the Twitter community is eager and willing to help out in any way they can – almost more so than they might be if we were face to face.  There many testimonials of people putting out a question to the Twitter network and receiving many helpful replies.  With information from every time zone, it is certainly a network that never sleeps. 

–  Twitter could connect me to leaders in the field of library science.  As Will Richardson is quoted by Diana Fingal, “You can follow education experts on Twitter and learn from their links and their conversations.  You can converse with people much smarter than you – well, I can, at least – and they’ll respond.”

– To build a professional learning network.  I was able to gather a number of library related contacts through Whoshouldifollow.com.  People seem to regularly post information and resources and provide great tips for all occasions.   

– With recent upgrades Twitter has become powerful search engine which could help to gather information on particular interests.  Summize.com, Terraminds.com, Tweetscan.com can help a person find all kinds of information. 

–  Use it as a way to record thoughts and ideas or to garner feedback on them – “I was thinking of doing this.  What do you think?”

2. Security issue up-date could be sent out by the Canadian and U.S. embassies.  This could include travel advisories about security or emergency issues in a country.  For those living or traveling abroad, Twitter could be used to send and receive advisories about issues in a specific country.

3. Stay in touch with breaking news locally or around the world.  During recent political events and natural disasters Twitter has been one of the first tools to pass the news along.

4. We could use Twitter to quickly and easily share travel pictures with family and friends from the road.

Many of the features I have mentioned are also offered by other Web 2.0 services.  I feel that whatever services a person chooses they will find many useful applications.  In this quickly changing technological world we must stay open and adaptable so that we don’t miss that perfect tool for us.  I do like Phil Bradley’s line. “If you don’t see a value in it, don’t use it, and come back in 6 months to try it again.”  I think I will take this to heart for Twitter and for other Web 2.0 tools.

Since I have already discussed, in my social networking post, the dynamics that social networking brings to society and school societies in particular, in the following I will simply discuss how Twitter could serve as a tool within education.

I thought I would start this section of my post by looking through Twitter’s terms of use.  In doing so I could find no mention of an age limit for users. I looked further and found some contradictory information.  Nevertheless, with no restrictions stated on Twitter’s terms of use page it would seem that anyone should be able to use this service.  So unlike Facebook, Twitter could be used in schools that permit it.  This might be a moot point anyway as a look at Twitter’s demographics shows that it is not the social networking tool of the younger generation.  Less than 25% of its users are under the age of 34 whereas with Facebooks users, 92% are under 35. It seems, therefore, that if we are able to use social network sites in schools, Facebook is the tool of choice for the students and Twitter is the tool of choice for the teachers.  So what advantages , does Twitter offer adults that makes it their choice?  On his site, The Y Marketers Blog, Devin gives two possible reasons.

“First, it really can act as a customized feed of your favorite authors and celebrities. The older demographic has flocked to the site because they can catch Rick Reilly’s latest thoughts, without having to wade through Jennie’s 21’st birthday pictures, seven of their friends having ended relationships and a half dozen invites to various parties/groups.  And [second] because there’s just updates, Twitter is NOT time consuming. For time-starved adults, the quick hits/micro-blogging model is the most appealing.” (Devon, 2009)

It is his second point that I was most drawn to.  Like many adults, librarians and teachers are busy and want good value for their minutes.  Twitter seems to deliver.

So what are some of the features that could make Twitter a valuable tool for us? There are several:

1. To build a professional learning network.  I was able to gather a number of library related contacts through Whoshouldifollow.com.  People seem to regularly post information and resources and provide great tips for all occasions.  There many testimonials of people putting out a question to the Twitter network and receiving many helpful replies. 

2. Gathering useful web links and other useful resources. Users often send out helpful links including links to their own published work or articles.  In fact this has become such a popular use of Twitter that there are a number of URL-shrinking services to minimize how many characters are used of the precious 140.

3. As a search engine to gather information on particular interests.  Summize.com, Terraminds.com, Tweetscan.com turn Twitter into a powerful search engine that can help a person find all kinds of information. 

4. As a way to access leaders in the field.  As Will Richardson is quoted by Diana Fingal, “You can follow education experts on Twitter and learn from their links and their conversations.  You can converse with people much smarter than you – well, I can, at least – and they’ll respond.”

5. Stay in touch with breaking news locally or around the world.  In recent political events and natural disasters Twitter has been one of the first tools to pass the news along.

6. Political science teachers (and older students) could easily stay current with political situations whether they are rallies, protests, or campaigns.

7. Teachers could enhance lessons with current events.  Wikipedia give a great example of an astronaut using Twitter to update the real-time status of a recent NASA mission.  As its use grows, applications such as this could become more and more popular.

8. In a recent article in School Library Journal, Lauren Barack talked of twitter being used by young adult authors to make contact with libraries and to connect to their young fans.  (2009)

9. Another way to stay in touch with parents and other community members who have an interest in the school.  Teachers could update everyone about classroom events. Administrators might send out school news or links to relevant sites.    Librarians could advertise events the library might be hosting or highlight new books. And all staff could be involved in any school related discussions that might be taking place amongst the wider community. (Bradley, 2009)

10.  Use it as a way to record thoughts and ideas or to garner feedback on them – “I was thinking of doing this.  What do you think?”

Although young people have been slow to adopt Twitter, new research reported in eSchool News suggests that they are starting to come around- grudgingly.  For students who set up a Twitter account of their own there are all the benefits mentioned above with a few additional ones:

1. Its terms of use do not have an age restrictions.

2. Jennifer Blanchard and others argue that the short 140 character format can help improve a person’s writing.  First it forces you to write in a clear and succinct way.  Second it gives your vocabulary a workout as you look for short descriptive words.  Third, editing skills are honed as you try to fit your meaning into 140 characters – or about 15 words.

3. Novel reading could become more significant if students could keep up to date on their favorite authors or join a book group.

4. Using these tools could serve to motivate students.

5. It provides a non-threatening vehicle for students in crisis to reach out for help.

6. It provides social networking experience that will be helpful in job situations.

7. Students who might not have previously had a voice such as those from lower income or immigrant homes could have more opportunities to be heard.

8. Social interaction through Twitter could help to promote collaboration.  YouthTwitter.com is a good example of this.

9. Use of Twitter could promote friendship that might not otherwise happen and could provide friends with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each other.

There are potentially negative effects of Twitter:

1. Valuable pieces of information may be difficult to find among the large number of messages flying around on a daily basis.

2. Dependence on Twitter could take away from face-to-face verbal interaction.  In his 12-minute Definitive Guide to Twitter, Fred Stutzman writes: “The strong ‘feeling of connectedness’ Twitterers get can trick the brain into thinking it’s having a meaningful social interaction, while another (ancient) part of the brain ‘knows’ something crucial to human survival is missing.” (2007)

3. Instead of improving a person’s writing Twitter as well as text-messaging could do more harm than good.  In an effort to minimize the use of characters, rules of grammar and punctuation are not followed and a generous use of abbreviations is used.

4. People could become slaves to Twitter and lose the sense of solitude and quiet reflection.  “There is something very fascinating and scary about being able to tap in and out of your friend’s consciousness stream with nothing more than the click of a mouse.” (Stutzman, 2007)

As it is a certainty that most students are using social networking sites it is important that they and their parents know how to use them safely and ethically.  Whether these tools are used in schools or not the schools can play an important role.

Perhaps even more important than the impact of social networking on the classroom, however is the impact that the classroom can have on social networking, by teaching students how to be responsible “digital citizens” online.  At their most basic level, these sites can be launching points to discussions on Internet ethics.  …most schools do the exact opposite, actively discouraging students’ use of social networking sites by blocking them on school computers – sending the message that they are dangerous or inappropriate.” (Blanding, p. 6-7)

There are dangers associated with being online.  However rather than putting up barriers to protect students, we can use the teachable moments to equip students to negotiate these dangers on their own.  “…we do need to start earlier on teaching privacy and adept handling of personal information.” (Abram, p. 3)  Working with students at an early age can equip them for when they are old enough to be on-line.

How, then, can schools create a consistent system to allow the use of social networking sites yet limit the risks to the users and the school?  In her article, Should Your Library Have a Social Media Policy?, Ellyssa Kroski argues that because both students and teachers are using social networking sites schools need policies in place to provide ground rules that can guide the safe use of these resources.  In addition she recommends that teachers need training in the use of the social Web. 

In summary I am beginning to see the potential of Twitter both personally and in the school setting.  For my own use, however, until a larger majority of friends, family, and teachers are using it, I will only able to leverage a part of its benefits.  The same holds true in schools and in the school community; once it becomes a standard tool with a critical mass it will become a more useful option.

References

Arthur, C. (2008, May 8). Making the most of Twitter. In The guardian (technology). Retrieved November 7, 2009, from The Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk//‌//‌/‌socialnetworking.twitter

Barack, L. (2009, March). Authors connect on Twitter. School Library Journal, 16-17.

Blanchard, J. (2009, March). How Twitter makes you a better writer. In Copyblogger. Retrieved November 9, 2009, from http://www.copyblogger.com/witter-writing/

Bradley, P. (2009, January 29). Using Twitter in libraries [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://philbradley.typepad.com/_bradleys_weblog/‌/‌/twitter-in-libraries.html

Fringal, D. (2009, September/). Have you tweeted today? Learning & Leading with Technology, 38.

LeFever, L. (2008, March 5). Twitter in plain English [Video file]. Retrieved from YouTube database. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o

“Rands”. (2009, March 2). The art of the Tweet [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.randsinrepose.com//‌/‌/‌/_art_of_the_tweet.html

Staff Report. (2009, October 26). Students start to flock to Twitter. In eSchool News. Retrieved November 12, 2009, from website: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/?i=61407

Stutzman, F. (2007, April 11). The 12-minute difinitive guide to Twitter. In AOL developer network. Retrieved November 12, 2009, from AOL website: http://dev.aol.com//‌/‌/guide-to-twitter

Twitter. (n.d.). Wikipedia [Wiki entry]. Retrieved November 7, 2009, from Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org//

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Pam Dudar
    November 25, 2009 at 7:30 am

    I have to say I had the same experiences too. Just couldn’t really use it personally. More for professional use to find links. Never used whoshouldifollow.com but will try it. I think you need to follow the right kind of people to get more out of Twitter.

  2. Jackie
    November 24, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    I agree with you Bruce, in that “until a larger majority of friends, family, and teachers are using it, I will only able to leverage a part of its benefits”. I also had a difficult time finding anyone ‘local’ to tweet with. Mostly, it was just business in the area advertising for tourism. Like any social network, I think it is most useful when you have a solid group of people in the network to follow and interact with.

  3. Kathy
    November 23, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I had the same basic experience as you had Bruce. I see where Twitter could be useful but it does not seem to be the tool for me. Different tools for different folks!

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