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….

Did We All Miss The Arrival of Web 3.0?

When I first started following the concept of Web 3.0, every article about the semantic web, or the merging of the current web with virtual worlds, or cloud computing mentioned that we were a few years away from those technologies “arriving.”  Well, it’s been a few years and we are still being told “a few more years.”  Web 3.0 is part of the way here, but mostly still down the road.

But what if Web 3.0 is already here?  Web 2.0 was just a cutesy term used to refer to a new way that users interacted with web sites.  It was nothing really new in all actuality – it was just that our expectations as web surfers changed.  And maybe another shift has occurred, and we are already in Web 3.0 and haven’t noticed it.

Or maybe someone else has noticed it, and I just haven’t read their work.  Ever since Wikipedia unwisely decided to delete the Web3.0 page off of their site for stupid reasons, I haven’t found a better place to find a good over view of all the thinking on Web 3.0.

But let’s step back a second and look at the history of how the web developed from an end-user perspective:

In the beginning, there was nothingness in the digital universe.  Petty humans had to go get information, instead of having it delivered to them.  The Great Webmaster in the Sky said “let there be great silos of information that send all forms of information to people!” and it was so.  “These silos will be guarded by my prophets, the web designers. The designers will let people in to the silos, but not let these people change anything unless they join My secret html society.”  And there was much rejoicing – because let’s face it, who wanted to bother with html?

Before long, the prophets of the Great Webmaster were overwhelmed  by the demand for more and more silos.  The Great Webmaster saw that this was not good.  “I will make it so that everyone can create their own silo if they choose – or they can go in and add to the silos of others.  I shall create embed codes and RSS feeds and give all silos even greater powers to communicate.  I will call this glorious new vision ‘Web 2.0.'” And it was so.  And there was much rejoicing.

Then the Great Webmaster noticed that the silos were still silos.  People could communicate and add to each others silos, but they still mostly kept inside their own silo. The Great Webmaster decided that it was not good for all people to still be holed up in personal silos.  “Let there be large, open areas for people to socialize and interact without walls.  Let there be SuperPokes and Mafia wars.  In some areas, let the communication be limited to 140 characters, so the more verbose of my prophets will not continue to bore the rest of the world to sleep.” And it was so.  “I will not give this one a name, so that the fuddy-duddies that freaked out over ‘Web2.0′ won’t get their knickers in a wad and maybe we can all move forward.” And there was much rejoicing.

All kidding aside, I think that the differences between FaceBook and MySpace, or even between Twitter and Blogs may be signaling another shift in web expectations.  Let me explain.  MySpace is social, but it still does so from one silo to another – the focus is really on “your” MySpace page.   Sure, when you sign in, you see a control panel that gives you some interaction with friends, but the main focus was on setting up your area.  FaceBook is different – it turned that concept inside out.  When you sign in, the control panel is all you really care about.  Sure, people can see a wall and all that – but the focus is on the interactions.  Most people get by fine without ever even thinking about what their public page looks like.

With blogs, the focus is also on the blog itself.  Sure, you can go and comment on other blogs, but the focus is still on building your own personal silo of information.  You can go visit other silos, but you still get the sense of leaving your silo to go there.  Twitter also tears down those walls – all of your friends’ updates are sent to you, either online or on your mobile or where ever. In reality, most Web 2.0 sites are about direct communication (like Skype), or setting up your own personal mini-silo and then communicating between them.

So, where Web 1.0 was about building silos of information controlled by a select few, Web 2.0 was about giving people the ability to build their own silos and let friends or customers contribute to the content in those silos.  Maybe Web 3.0 is really about tearing down the silos and building communities?  Maybe we need that before we are really, truly ready for virtual worlds and cloud computing?

If Web 1.0 was the “read-only” web, and Web 2.0 was the “read-write” web – maybe Web 3.0 is really about the “socialize” web.  In many ways, one could argue that what I am saying about the “socialize” web is really just the full realization of Web 2.0.  Of course, that is what they also said about Web 2.0 (“it is really just the full realization of the Web itself”).

But, maybe this could also explain why sites like FaceBook and Twitter are taking off in popularity, and other sites like Ning and Yammer (that do the same basic things) are still not catching on as well.  Maybe it is just market saturation, or maybe there really is a shift away from Web 2.0 that we haven’t noticed yet.  Or maybe someone else has and I am just blabbering about something someone else already came up with.

Or maybe I have a short attention span and have grown bored of Web 2.0.  It had it’s five minutes – on to the next version!

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:

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.)

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.)

Twitter vs. Jaiku

John Swords (aka Johnny Ming from the very informative SL podcast SecondCast) posted a very interesting comparison of Twitter/Jaiku and Myspace/Facebook — the problems the first in each pair has been experiencing recently, and how the second has handled similar circumstances in a much better way.

For those who’ve been using Twitter recently, you know that the past couple of days have been rough for avid Twitterers. (Or are we Tweeters?) Web pages not coming up. Losing the connection between Twitter and Google Talk. Etc. As I pull up the Jaiku homepage to fill in my registration info, I feel fickle technology tester jumping from one toy to the next. Oh well. At least I can feed my Twitter feed into my Jaiku feed. *sigh*

Twitterers of Note

As Matt and I are trying to figure out this whole “twitter thing”, today I decided to go out and see what big names I could find who are also twittering away. Besides your favorite Edugeek Journalists (or should we call ourselves “Edugeekers”? Or just “Edugeeks”?…), below is a list of Twitterers of note (in no particular order) that I was able to find.

*I’m not quite sure if Google is legit or not. However, myself and 31 others have signed on as followers, just in case.

**Not sure about MTV, either. But they’ve added an icon to their account, so they *must* be legit!

***NOTE: BBC has been *very* active using Twitter. I know I’ve at least two other BBC Twitter accounts pop up — BBCPersian and BBCVietnamese.

Looking at the list, understandably, the big news orgs are jumping on the bandwagon. It’s a really good way of getting breaking news without cluttering up your email. Interestingly, the Democrats are in there as well, but currently only John Edwards is actively twittering away. And of note are the number of (I guess you would call them…) twitter squatters. George W. Bush‘s Twitter page is humorous.

I tried to find academic institutions using Twitter, but to no avail. Honestly, though, I’m having a hard time figuring out how Twitter might be effective in education. Sure, it’ll be great for us when we’re attending conferences and want to twitter about some great new tool or concept or research, but how else can this be used? Maybe online students can twitter about their progress on projects? Q&A Twitter groups for classes?

So anyway, who’s missing from my list? Let me know!