SHEEN Sharing

A Project of the Scottish Employability Co-ordinators' Network

Easing our communications, sharing info, supporting each other: in praise of Twitter

Already know you want to get started with Twitter but not sure how? See my next post with tips and tricks here.

What is Twitter?
Twitter is known as a “microblogging” tool; think Facebook status updates without the rest of Facebook around them. Or tiny emails only from and to people you choose to be part of your own personal community. Or miniature blog posts appearing in your feed reader.

Each update (or “Tweet”) must be 140 characters long or fewer. You read the Tweets only of folk you choose to “follow”. There are many free tools for reading your “Twitterstream” (all the Tweets from people who you follow) – or you can just read your Twitter account in a webpage, feed reader or email inbox.

Why Twitter?
I was planning to avoid talking about Twitter during the early phase of SHEEN Sharing. I felt like it was currently being over-hyped in the media with consequent negative feelings running rampant (amongst those who haven’t used it that is). And I just wasn’t sure it would be useful for people just starting to explore this Web2.0y stuff.

I was wrong about all of that. In several meetings it has come up that people find the deluge of emails and managing information overload difficult these days. With the best will in the world, it’s really difficult for such a widely distributed and busy group to stay in touch and work together supportively (although the ECN folks certainly do manage well with the time they’ve got). Someone said that they wanted something like the way you chat to colleagues in the lunch queue at a conference.

How Twitter Has Eased My Working Life
Consequently, I often found myself explaining how I use Twitter for work and how it has eased my working life to a considerable degree, especially with regard to communications and support within my professional community of practice, and for getting relevant information in a very timely manner. Gradually those interested in SHEEN Sharing have expressed an interest in trying this wonder tool.

How is Twitter Useful?: A Personal View

Here are the ways I find Twitter useful:

1. Ease of integration into my daily work
I don’t have to log into anything- not even a separate webpage in a new tab. I use Firefox as my browser, and there is a free Twitter tool called TwitterFox. TwitterFox sits in the lower right hand corner of my browser window, and has a little number on it showing how many new Tweets have come in.

When a new Tweet comes in, a little balloon pops up, just at the edge of my eye-line, with the full Tweet text (140 characters) and sender’s name and icon in it. I can tell in an instant if I want to follow it up. If I want REAL radio silence (say if I’m writing something heavy duty), I can switch it off. If I want to see recent Tweets, I just click the icon and the balloon expands, but not enough to obscure the page I’m currently reading or working in. I can have it open while, for instance, typing this into our blog post editor online.

2. Choosing my community
I see messages only from those I want to be in communication with. I choose to “follow” people whose messages are of interest to me. I can un-follow them at any time. I can block people who I don’t want following me, or restrict my followers to only those I consciously approve.

3. Flexible configuration for different purposes
I can use a more flexible tool like TweetDeck to group Tweets according to my interests. For instance, I have a TweetDeck stream that only shows messages from colleagues around the world with an interest in repositories. If I’m working on repositories stuff I can look at that stream. Or, I can run a search in TweetDeck for “repositories” and get a stream that only includes Tweets that mention that word.

4. Amplifying conferences: being in many places at once!
I can keep up with conferences and other events or issues without needing to attend them. Conversely, if I’m running a conference I can make sure that it is “amplified” out to many more people than just those physically present.

People at a given conference (e.g. #altc2008), or interested in a current news topic (e.g. #G20) agree to use the same “hashtag” (a term with a # in front). Then, anyone interested in that topic can follow all Tweets that include the hashtag. I’ve followed numerous conference presentations from my desk in this way: people who are at the conference Tweet news, impressions, discussion points etc., and I can respond via Twitter and get further discussion and feedback from others- all in real time. Or, I can go back and read the Tweets later to catch up on what happened. Conference webpages and blogs can include Twitterstream feeds. And so on…

5. “Dear lazyweb” – accessing a world of expert advice and information
I can easily ask for help on a topic by typing a Tweet question, again in the lower right-hand corner of my screen, no need to navigate to a new page or log into anything. My question will go to those interested: firstly, all the people who follow me will see the Tweet (and ignore it if they’re not interested); and secondly, if I’ve included a useful keyword or hashtag in the Tweet, people from further afield might see it and respond. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gathered invaluable information that I’ve needed, generally within 5 minutes of Tweeting. This has also often led to new people joining me via me following them, or them following me, or both.

A good example of this was the SHEEN Sharing Trials Planning Meeting in early April. We explored briefly the idea of using something like NetVibes as a more permanent community web presence for SHEEN Sharing and the ECN. I only had the example of my own rather pitiful NetVibes page handy (I’d only put it together for our initial introductory workshops anyway; it’s not something I was familiar with in detail). Everyone was somewhat unimpressed. While we were at lunch I quickly sent a Tweet: “dear lazyweb: anyone got any examples of NetVibes used as project dissemination?” and within 10 minutes had four rather lush examples (more on that later), better than even I’d anticipated, and showing NetVibes being very close to what we wanted to achieve. When we started up after lunch, I was ready to go! And I still had time to eat.

6. Community membership and support
As a social tool for keeping up with ones community and feeling supported, validated, amused, informed, or just plain part of something bigger, Twitter is the best. I work alone at home, but I feel like I’m in a big, silent room, where I can stand up and walk about, ask if anyone wants a cuppa, ask a pertinent work-related question and get answers, hear some gossip or the latest news, or just tell people I’ve got a headache and get sympathy in response. Kind of like working in an open plan office that you can switch on and off at will.

The thing I can’t emphasise strongly enough is the ease, speed, and lack of intrusiveness with which this happens. And Twitter can now be integrated with most other web tools you might be using, including email, feed readers, blogs, wikis and other websites.

Worries
Usually at about this point (or rather, about two-thirds of the way through the above information), someone says “But there isn’t enough time in the world… ” or “How do you find the time… ” etc. All I can say is that it saves me time, as well as bringing benefits I can’t get elsewhere. There is still the problem of using anything like this as a distraction, or getting overwhelmed with incoming information and messages. I don’t think the need to manage these problems as individuals is going away any time soon!

So, the next post will be a HowTo specifically to get you set up on Twitter, and also an announcement: follow SHEEN Sharing itself on Twitter!

April 23, 2009 - Posted by | Group Spaces Online, Microblogging, Social Networking, Web2.0 Tools, Tips and Tricks | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Tips and Tricks: Getting Started with Twitter Wondering what Twitter is, exactly? Not sure why you’d want to get started using Twitter? Wondering what the benefits might be? See my previous post on Twitter. […]

    Pingback by Tips and Tricks: Getting Started with Twitter « SHEEN Sharing | April 23, 2009


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