Twitter and Conference Session Hash Tags

One of the coolest uses I have seen for Twitter is as a conference back channel.  Twitter has grown enough so that there are usually enough people to keep it interesting even if you aren’t there. The only problem comes in organizing the Tweets so that they are easy to find. After all – what is the point in tweeting if no one sees it?

Usually, the conference tweets are easy – just use the organizational acronym and that is it.  There are a few issues, but more on that in a bit.  The real problem comes when tweeting about specific sessions.  You don’t want to have to explain in every tweet what session you are at – right?  The solution is usually to start numbering sessions and adding that to the conference tag.

Last year, I worked with the Texas Distance Learning Association on this issue.  We had 150 or sessions, so just add a number to the end of the tag and you are done: #txdla101, #txdla102, etc.  The problem is, we ran into a huge problem with searching for tweets.  If you want to just find #txdla101 – no problem. But then what if you want to see #txdla102? That is a separate search.  Multiply that by 150 sessions and then the conference tag (which won’t show up when you search for #txdla101) and you have a tiresome problem that would hinder the back channel due to search exhaustion.

I tried wild cards, but the results were spotty at best. And I was shocked to see how many random link generators that spammers use ended up containing “txdla” in them.  So we came up with a simple solution.

Just put a dash in the tags (like #txdla-101) and your problems are over.  A search for “txdla” will show every session tag AND the general conferences tags – all in one search.  Easy.  Or, if you do want to see a specific session, then search for it (like “txdla-101”) and your search is easily narrowed.

Once we figured that out, we had to discuss the general conference tag a bit more.

The discussion that we had was whether to use the year in the general conference tag – #txdla vs #txdla2010.  Ultimately you would need the dash in there to help with searches.  But we also ended up with confusion over whether to use #txdla-2010 or just #txdla-10.

Most conference only happen once per year, so I say the year is unnecessary.  Twitter searches in 2011 are not going to find anything from a year ago. They just don’t go that far back.  But, if someone does somehow find an old tweet and wants to know the year, they can just look at the time stamp and quickly find out what year the conference happened.  Overall, I would say that it is unnecessary to identify the current date in any Tweet – they are all time stamped.

Another controversy I have read online is over whether conferences should officially announce Twitter tags or allow them to be used by presenters.  Some say that this would keep some back-channelers from being totally honest if they knew that it would be seen by the person up front.

To this, I say “hogwash.” (guess my Southern roots are coming out).

Look, Twitter is a public forum.  If you have a problem with what you are about to say being read by the person up front, then maybe you should consider whether it should be Tweeted at all.  But even if that is not enough, then I still have to come back to Twitter being public. If you don’t want everyone to read it, then make your feed private, or go to a different method of back-channeling.  But don’t claim that a public forum is going to shut down honesty and openness because it is being, well – public.

Now, if your conference or event has less sessions or happens more than once a year, you might have to come with a different set of guidelines. But these are the ones I found work best with year conferences with large numbers of sessions.

Why Twitter is Irrelevant (To Me)

Just had to get that off my chest.  I don’t hate Twitter, or think that it should never be used.  I just don’t find it very relevant to my life.  And I have good reasons for that.  Other people have good reasons why it is the best online tool in their digital life.  And they find pretty cool uses for it.

For example, they find Twitter a great source of news and information.  For me, I am still an avid blog reader, now addicted to Google Reader.  At least half of the Tweets I get from friends are “awesome blog post here: ______”  or – even worse – a re-tweet (RT) of someone else pointing out a cool blog post.  But since I use Google Reader, I have already read that blog post, or another one on the same subject, about 90% of the time.  I know everyone says blogs have died or will die – but then what would most people tweet about?  Really – I just don’t see Twitter being anything without regular, old blogs.

Speaking of which – what is up with all of the RT’s?  It seems like some people don’t do anything but RT someone else pointing to a cool blog post somewhere.  But where is the original content, or even some commentary, or even a haiku of original material?  Only two people that I follow on Twitter actually Tweet original content on a consistent basis: the local weather guy, and George Siemens.  Oh, if only more people could Tweet like George.

Well, okay – there are more than two.  But the others that have original content all do the other thing that makes Twitter irrelevant to me – they sync their Tweets with their FaceBook status.  Why would I read what you are doing for dinner on Twitter or a smart phone or whatever when I can go to a much more interesting place like FaceBook and play some games and argue about conspiracy theories all at the same time?  Yes, I know some people think FaceBook games are pretty pointless, but I guess I am different.  I call someone a friend because I am interested in getting to know them.  If I am not interested, I don’t accept the request.  But accepting that request means that yes, I am interested in knowing what 80’s song you are, or how you feel about Obamacare, or what not.  That is how I treat friends – I care about the real news and the trivial in their life.   Too many misanthropes out there gripping about FaceBook, in my opinion.

Anyway – I should stop to explain my history with Twitter.  I started following Twitter day 1 when Odeo originally announced they were starting it.  I didn’t request a Beta account then – I thought it looked boring.  In fact, if you are one of the five people that have been reading this blog for a while, you probably remember when we raved about Jaiku at first.  Jaiku was a cool Twitter competitor that had little mood icons, groups, and much cooler badges than Twitter in the early days.  But Google bought Jaiku and killed them as a serious competitor.  But I still remember when everyone asked “Twitter or Jaiku?”

Speaking of Jaiku, there are many other sites that do Twitter much better than Twitter does.  I mean – seriously – why do I have to take up a chunk of my 140 characters to insert a link or a link to a pic or whatever?  It is 2009 – when is Twitter going to catch up with where email was in 1989 and allow attachments, like other micro-blog services do so well?  Just wondering.

There is some hope for me using Twitter.  The local weather guy Tweeting updates is one of them – finally some good content that I haven’t already read on FaceBook or five other blogs.  That will keep me coming back to Twitter each day.  A few magazines have caught on to that too, as well as celebrity writers/bloggers like David Pogue.

Well, Pogue made me want to petition for the banishment of RT’s from Twitter all together, but that is another story :)

But should we abandon Twitter, just because I find it boring?  Never!  That is one huge problem I see in Ed Tech circles: someone doesn’t like something, so they trash others that use it, and try to convince as many as they can that it is bad to use.  Many people use Twitter for some cool things in online education.  I keep my Twitter account around because I like to see how people use it, even though I probably never will in the classes I teach. I get the bigger picture, and I think Twitter has a place in the bigger picture.

RT’s on the other hand….

Is Twitter a Waste of Time?

Every time I start talking about Twitter, I get the same response: “Why would I want to read short messages about what someone ate for breakfast?”.

You wouldn’t – but that is the wrong question to ask.  It is the same as asking “Why would I want to watch TV when there are soap operas on there?”  If you pick the most inane use of any technology, then of course it will seem like a waste of time.

So is it a waste of time? If you use it that way – then yes, it is.  If you have a bigger vision for it, then… no, it isn’t.

What is the bigger vision? Think problem solving, research, and breaking news.  Twitter users broke the miracle on the Hudson story, after all.

The New York Times has a good break down of what I am talking about with this article: Putting Twitter’s World to Use.  I was surprised to see that Twitter is now the third largest online social network behind FaceBook and MySpace.  No wonder I keep getting server errors from them :)

I love this quote from the Times article:

“Twitter reverses the notion of the group,” said Paul Saffo, the Silicon Valley futurist. “Instead of creating the group you want, you send it and the group self-assembles.”

What about Twitter in education?  Chris Duke taught a great session at the 2009 TxDLA conference called Learning With Microblogging and Twitter.  Some great ideas were shared in that presentation – you can see the session materials online here.

In fact, at TxDLA 2009, several people Twittered about internet problems at their hotel and received fast responses from the that hotel’s corporation.  Think nobody cares about Twitter? Think again.

Here is a TwitterFountain widget about TxDLA ’09 to help you sere some of the bigger vision:

Is Social Networking Getting Old, Or Just Getting Started?

In the current Web 2.0 world, many have predicted that “trends” will have a very short life.  Many have written off Microsoft already because they already had their five years of dominance.  MySpace and FaceBook have had their day and will die out soon, according to some.  Twitter never really caught on in the mainstream (AOL is dead now, and it has way more users than Twitter), so micro-blogging in general is going the way of the bulletin board according to some.  Pownce just decided to close their doors, and Jaiku just disappeared after all.

But is social networking getting ready to claim its spot in cyber history, or just getting ready to really, truly explode?  Maybe it will die, or maybe we will see a steady increase in the future instead of another explosion.  But there are some interesting developments.

Ning was started as a “create-your-own-social-network” service a while back.  While it didn’t exactly change the world, it is inspiring others to do the same.  Shout’Em is a new service that allows you to create your own micro-blog service.  Right now it is in Beta, but you can see the EduGeek Shout’em site to see what it is like.  It does have a few features that Twitter doesn’t.  You can also create a private network, or customize the look of your network.  This could be great for creating your own network for your class… except for one glitch.  After the private Beta, they plan on charge $10 a month for each upgrade you want.  So, if you want a private network for your class with a custom design, that would be $20 a month.  Probably a deal killer for doing this on a class level, unless of course you can be okay with having an open network.  Which sounds like a good idea to me, at least at the college level.  (If you want to join the EduGeek network, you can use the invitation code of “doneright” – thanks to for the tip)

With the fees that they charge, Shout’em seems to be targeting businesses more than schools.  Yammer is also doing this, but with a different approach. Yammer seems to  base their networks around your email address.

Another interesting development is Google FriendConnect.  You can see the widgets in the sidebars of this site to see what they are like.  Google is letting you create social networks based around a site that you own.  They say they are going to roll-out some more features in the future.  Feel free to join ours to see what it is like.  The only hindrance with this one is that it can only be used by the person that owns a site.  You can’t add this to, say, a class hosted on BlackBoard.  If your school installed BlackBoard on their server and also will install the two required files on their site, however – you could be in business.

And speaking of Blackboard, I will say that I liked the integration with social networking tools that I am starting to see in their software.  Not sure if I can say exactly what I saw yet, but they are taking that in to consideration.

Presidential Twitter Debate

Very interesting story on NPR about the current presidential twitter debate going on between the Obama and McCain camps. Listen to the store here.

Weekend Edition Sunday, June 22, 2008 – Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a Web site that focuses on the intersection of politics and technology, talks about the Twitter debate between presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama. He also discusses the forum’s upcoming conference.

The story also discusses how Web 2.0 and the internet has and will change democracy, and it even ponders how our country would be different had our founding fathers had access to the internet.

(You can listen in on the twitter debate here or here.)

The EduGeek Journal Social Network is Launched

If you are like me, you get random emails, IMs, Jaiku/Twitter notices, etc from random people about random cool Ed Tech stuff. You try to pass them on to as many people as possible, but you inevitably leave someone out. Then, you remember the people you forgot and can’t find the original message anymore. Wouldn’t it be great to have a central spot for every one to gather together and share stuff? One that can be searched, tagged, and easy to navigate?

Well, I decided to do something about that, at least with my small circle of friends. Thanks to Ning, I start a social network specifically for Ed Tech people. Of course, there is a discussion board for sharing new ideas and discussing stuff (attachments allowed). But you can also stream photos from a Flickr account into the site (or upload straight to the site). You can add a YouTube (or any other online video service) video – or upload one straight to the site. All of this can be tagged and commented on. Plus all of the other features of social networking. RSS feeds are everywhere, including the latest updates list – so you don’t have to constantly hit the site to see if there is anything new.

Click here to go to the EduGeek Journal social network.

If you want to join the site, I recommend first going to the main Ning site and getting a Ning ID. Doing this will let you join other Ning social networks, too.

You’ll also notice that there is an EduGeek Journal Jaiku Channel. Anyone with a Jaiku account can join the channel and send micro-blogs to the channel. Jaiku isn’t currently accepting new accounts, unfortunately, as they were just bought by Google. I wanted to put off announcing the channel until new accounts were allowed, but that is taking a while. But for those of you that like to micro-blog but not social network, this is another avenue to add ideas to the EduGeek Journal network.

Google on the Brain

I was a bit surprised today when I saw Matt’s Jaiku post about Google buying Jaiku. (See Jaiku’s announcement and Google’s blog post.) Now, I know this is a conversation that’s been going on a long time now and has been a concern for many, but it still just really amazes me and kind of catches me off guard at just how much of my everyday online experience occurs on a domain or through some site that’s owned by Google.

And these are just a few of the things I/we do every day. I’m impressed that Google went with Jaiku instead of the much more publicized Twitter. Proof (to me, at least) that they’re going for quality. With this in mind, I’m wondering what’s next?

  • Will Google snatch up its own share of Facebook — just enough to edge out Microsoft? Sure Google has Orkut, but Facebook is huge … and growing exponentially… and follows the same clean and simple design that Google’s known for.
  • Will Google somehow woo Flickr users to its own online photo storage tool? (I’m just not a fan … currently … of Google’s Picasa. IMHO, Yahoo’s Flickr is still the powerhouse in this arena.)
  • Will Google overthrow the metaverse by releasing its own virtual world, eclipsing current favorites such as Second Life? Heck, we’ve already been building that virtual world for them. Check out all the cities, buildings, structures, etc. that have been built in 3-D by you and me using Google’s Sketchup software.

Wouldn’t it be great to sit in on a meeting at Google where they’re discussing all their upcoming projects/mergers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out our future includes:

  • Google Weather – They already have the maps. Now they just need to buy out The Weather Channel or Intellicast and overlay their weather maps.
  • Google Vacations – We (you and I) are already adding in the user reviews into Google Maps for hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Google already has a way to purchase goods/services via Google Checkout. Now all they need to do is buy out Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline.
  • Google Movies – Google already can distribute media via Google Video or YouTube. Now they can buy out Netflix so they have the video-on-demand capabilities. Definitely subscription-based.
  • Google Library – This one’s a little tricky. Like Google Movies, would probably be subscription based. (Plus they’d have to figure out a way to restrict printing/saving/etc.) Google’s already scanning library upon library of material. Now just make it available to users to read books cover to cover. Throw in the ability to search news/journal databases, and college students worldwide would sign right up.
  • Google Conferencing – Combine Google Talk with plugins that enable a collaborative whiteboard, group voice chat, and application sharing, and you’ve got your own web conferencing tool. Watch out Elluminate Live and Horizon Wimba.

But enough dreaming. You guys can continue speculating in the comments. (It’s actually really fun pondering what Google will do next!) Needless to say, I’d be very interested in seeing this mythical Google phone we keep hearing about. Surely this device will give users very easy access to Google services… which is pretty darn impressive considering what we’ve just talked about. Steve Jobs might be a little concerned about this, come to think of it.

Real-Time Search Comes to Twitter

Interesting news in micro-blogging. Twitter will soon release it’s newest feature — the ability to search in real-time for key words and get results from recent twitter posts. (Read full ZDNet article here.) ZDNet notes that this will allow Twitter to become “the ultimate buzz tracker for those who are interested in what’s being talked about at any given moment in time”. The journalist in me is excited about being able to see exactly what real people worldwide are saying about real events. Definitely an interesting development…. I just wish Jaiku would step up. (IMHO, Jaiku’s just a better tool — it’s cleaner, easier, and does/did more tricks. But that’s another blog post.)