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Look Who’s Tweeting

You’ve heard of blogging, but have you heard of microblogging? Twitter, the most popular microblogging platform, is a place on the web where people give updates on their lives by answering the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less.  The character limit makes it “micro.” Is this a practical way to share information? Is it a colossal waste of time? You’ll be the judge of that! Here are a few reasons to give Twitter a chance, along with some basic instructions for getting started.

  • Community. Even if you are the only person for miles around who does what you do, Twitter can make you feel like you have an office full of colleagues. Suddenly you’ll have a whole community of people who understand why you get so excited about new MeSH headings! By keeping tabs on how other librarians spend their everyday lives, I find colleagues who are working on similar projects and wrestling with similar ideas. Of course, not all “tweets” are serious and work-related. Twitter also helps me get to know my colleagues as people. Knowing something about a Twitter contact’s hobbies or sense of humor helps to break the ice when I meet that person face-to-face.
  • Quicker than blogging. A good, thoughtful blog post takes a long time to compose. With Twitter, you can share a quick thought without feeling pressured to add a lengthy commentary. Twitter rules mandate that you cut to the chase! With a 140-character limit, you will quickly learn how to be concise.
  • Other creative uses. Twitter users are really inventive! Libraries use Twitter as a newsletter, as a collaboration tool, and even to support reference service.  Qwitter and TweetWhatYouEat help to promote healthy lifestyles. Twitter has even been used successfully to raise funds for good causes.

Here’s how to get started:

1.       Go to twitter.com and sign up for a free account.

2.       Post your first update! This was mine:

3.       Find some people or groups to follow.  Start by following the medlibs , the GroupTweet for Medical Libraryfolk. This group is 126 members strong and moderated by eagledawg, a familiar face around here.

Follow the National Institutes of Health on Twitter to receive updates about health research and/or funding information.

You can also find people to follow on Twitter by searching for their names or linking your Twitter account to your e-mail contacts list. If you want to know who’s tweeting about, say, healthcare, Twitter Search will give you a nice sampling.

4.       Choose how you would like to send and receive tweets. I use the Firefox extension Twitterfox so I can see tweets in my browser without having to leave a tab open for twitter.com. Twhirl and friendfeed are two other options for managing tweets.

5.       Season to taste. There is no reason to let keeping up with Twitter updates become a burden to you. It may take some time before you find the right mix of feeds to follow. Jessamyn at librarian.net recently shared some guidelines for striking the right balance.

The Lingo:

Tweet – a tweet is a post or a message on Twitter.

@ – Typing the ‘@’ symbol in a tweet before someone’s Twitter username indicates that you are responding to something that person tweeted earlier. Your tweet will be still be public. Here is an example:

D  for Direct Message – Typing ‘D’ in a tweet before someone’s Twitter username sends a private message to that person. The Twitter group medlibs works with direct messages. Once you become a follower of medlibs, medlibs will follow you back. To tweet something to the entire medlibs group, send a direct message. For example:

RT  or Retweet – Add ‘RT’ to your tweet as a courtesy when you are re-posting someone else’s tweet. For example:

Tinyurl – Long, messy URLs can eat up your 140 character limit very quickly. Use a service such as tinyurl or shrinkify to reduce the length of those URLs before posting them in your tweets.

If you’ve been skeptical of Twitter, I hope this post convinces you to give it a try. Leave a comment to let us know what you think.

Additional Resources:

Twitter in Plain English – a must-see!

Twittering the Plenary of the Medical Library Association Meeting

A Doctor’s Opinion: Why I Started Microblogging on Twitter

6 Responses to “Look Who’s Tweeting”

  1. Hope Leman Says:

    Hi, Alison. This was perfect timing for me, as I am helping to start a new blog called Next Generation Science and my partner set up a Twitter account for us. I am still learning my way around it. Thanks for the overview.

    I used to regard Twitter as just the plaything of narcissistic airheads. But there are some items of genuine value on it. For instance, I came across a Scientific American article entitled, “Cranial Computing: Practical Brain-to-Cyber Interfaces Closer to Reality” that I might never have learned of save for Twitter. And one user provided a link to an article about the computer programming language, R, which I had not heard of before.

    When I tweet, I try to say something of substance. As you say, hard to do that in under 140 characters.

    And Twitter wreaks havoc on one’s powers of concentration. I can’t write several articles in a row without thinking at the end of each one, “Better go plug this puppy on Twitter!” Tweeting, thus, saps productivity in other realms. Or does it spur it–you have to have something substantive to tweet about sometimes.

    I read once that librarians like to use Twitter at conferences. For example, “There is a great panel discussion going in here in Conference Room A—hustle on over!” Like walkie-talkies. Thanks for the tip about tinyurl–I will look into that.

  2. Mike Scully Says:

    (Sigh!) Twitter joins YouTube, blogspot, and other “Web 2.0″ sites blocked by ‘Websense’ (eats bandwidth, you can *those* sorts of things on such sites, or both, apparently). Short of lobbying IT for access, what’s a blocked library to do?

    Mike

  3. Alison Aldrich Says:

    Hope: I’ll be the first to admit that Twitter can sap productivity if you let it. It’s important to know your limits and turn it off if it gets too distracting.

    Twitter is great at conferences! It’s like passing notes or whispering, but with people in other rooms, and without annoying the presenters. After the meeting, the presenters can look at tweets for a candid evaluation. See link 2 under Additional Resources above.

    Mike: That, of course, is the million dollar question. Google “twitter security” and you’ll see it hasn’t exactly been flawless in that area. As security improves and as Web 2.0 gains status as something important for real work (not just toys!) I hope the situation will improve for blocked libraries. Keep working on building mutual that understanding with your IT staff. Are there any IT folks out there who would like to weigh in on this?

    If you have a way to read RSS feeds at your library, you could set up a Twitter account from a non-networked computer and subscribe to a feed of updates from all the people you follow.

  4. Isaac Huffman Says:

    Mike: We too had Twitter blocked by our IT using ‘Websense.’ In truth twitter, like text messages, could not be easier for a network to support. 140-character limit is about the smallest packet a network needs to send. So bandwidth is not the issue. Its mostly a sense that twitter wastes time that creates a twitter block.

    I would start by trying to use Yammer.com (the Twitter for business). Unlike Twitter, Yammer has a business model. So, somewhere down the line you may run into fees. But not upfront. Then use PR to petition IT for access because PR has a more mobile office and may already be twittering via mobile phone to track activity of staff, despite your websense “ban.” If not PR trade magazines have been on the twitter train for some time and you may have fans at least. With PR’s help and a quick email about the value of Yammer to your productivity and this should be a easy band to be lifted. (That’s what worked for me)

    If not twitter from your phone… twitter is text message compatible.

    All: I find twitter great for live events like “Macworld” or “MLA” a good twitter in the conference gives you all the data your brain requires. But like Facebook status updates some people tweet too excess. Tweets like “I am now going down the stairs” are so useless.

    Thanks for the post

  5. Alison Aldrich Says:

    Interesting! Yammer has a video that nicely illustrates how microblogging can help with project management within an organization. It looks like a cross between activity reporting and instant messaging. Isaac: once you got the ban lifted, how did you convince your co-workers to start yammering?

    And yes… Twitter is SMS compatible (Yammer is too, I see) so you can use it from your phone.

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