Despite the flippant name Twitter has emerged as a powerful for tool for research, personal knowledge management, making connections and teaching. It is a social tool that can keep up with literally breaking news because it is powered by public participation. During the marathon bombing Twitter was used by Boston Police, The Boston Globe and innumerable members of the public to post second-by-second news about the event. From the moment it happened it was documented, in a completely self-directed fashion. This is one of the unique features of Twitter.
With a little bit of experimentation you may find it a useful tool for your digital toolbox.
Twitter is a form of social media called a microblog. It has a limit of 140 characters although that can be adjusted by using additional tools. You can also exchange images and videos. Because of the 140 character limitation (about 25 words) many people shy away from it. Often links are included to get to expanded content and “link shorteners” are used to shrink long links down to a few characters.
The best way to get started is to sign up for an account. You will create a Twitter “handle” which is a name by which you will become known and searchable. There is ongoing discussion about having a personal account separate from a work account. Keeping two accounts can be onerous and the general consensus is that one account is preferred and to not be afraid to be yourself.
Once you have signed up you can start searching for people or organizations to “follow” and in turn, as you develop an online flavor for your account, people will follow you. By judicious choice of who you follow you can create and curate a body of constantly updating information on topics you are interested in. The difference between this and a service like Google Alerts is that you can also interact with the sources posted, ask further questions, make professional contacts and make use of the best of the social connection.
Once you have an account you can begin to customize your experience and use Twitter to its full advantage.
You can follow people or groups who are key in your research area. You can also create and add or search for created hashtags (#) as in #wheelock, which will limit the online messages to only messages that contain that tag. In a classroom you can have the students tag their tweets with something significant to your class, it’s name or a topic, to track a running conversation.
The data of Twitter itself can be mined as in the recent research project looking for time travelers by searching for events reported before they happened. None were found.
Following your interest is a way to connect with people who may be key in the field but traveling in a different circle than yours. The ability to contact them and establish a community of practice that can extend across the world is very powerful and can lead to novel insights. For students it may be an opportunity to learn about primary content.
One powerful way to share information is in the process of “retweeting.” Twitter allows you to take something that you have read and send it back out in your own account. In this way you become a curator of information, sharing with like-minded people who will follow you for the flavor of your content. You can be, or emerge as an expert in a field by the quality of your tweets and your comments and/or sharing of other people’s tweets.
Managing the flow
While scanning tweets can be an absorbing experience it can be time consuming to manage all the traffic in and out. There are tools to manage the pace and spacing of tweets so that you can do all of your searching or writing at one time and have the tool send them out at predefined times, days and dates. You can preload an entire collection of tweets to be dispensed over a sustained period of time. If you are using Twitter in the classroom you can schedule tweets to coincide with your syllabus or holidays. A couple of useful tools are:
Buffer shares your content at the best possible times throughout the day, week or month to make sure it gets to your followers.
TweetDeck works like a dashboard to give you control over all your Twitter feeds.
If you haven’t gotten your feet wet with social media yet, or you would like to add an absorbing tool to your digital toolbox, Twitter is the way to go. If you would like to follow me my handle is @zazencoyot. Happy Tweeting!