Twitter: A Tool for Academia to Connect, Share, and Grow Relationships

04/28/2009

Twitter: A Tool for Academia to Connect, Share, and Grow Relationships
John LeMasney
Digital Media Convergence
COMM 563 SP09


Introduction

Twitter allows individuals to send out messages to followers as well as the public about any topic, without editing, complete with what a power user of the system named Andrew Korf calls “ambient intimacy” or “to follow or be somewhat intimate with people without needing to directly engage them” (Salas, 2009). It is a very direct way to broadcast, relatively easy to do (comparative even to blogs), and allows for an asynchronous audience and interaction (Siegel, 2007). It allows for the following of others in the thousands and the ability to be followed by thousands (Johnson-Elie, 2009). As a result, it has the potential for greatness as a mass communication tool, as well as a one-to-one communication, often simultaneously (Johnson-Elie, 2009). While it was first envisioned as a fun way to keep in touch with friends, its ability to meet much more serious needs is being quickly realized (Shropshire, 2009; Antlfinger, 2009). Given the right context, training, and support, it can transform the ways that organizations, businesses, and communities communicate (Robinson, 2009; Ferak, 2009; Antlfinger, 2009). I’ll demonstrate in this paper that Twitter is a yet-undiscovered powerful communication tool for academic staff, faculty and students to connect, share, and grow relationships.

About Twitter

Twitter is a system by which one can send 140 character messages by way of web sites, phones using Short Messaging System (SMS), or bridged systems, such as email (Johnson-Elie, 2008). The 140 character limit is one that appears because of SMS’s precedent limitation of the same number, and is one of the endearing quirks of the system, which allows phones to send and recieve messages over a commonly available system (Conan, 2009). Twitter is comprised entirely of status updates, where people post, or tweet, about what they are doing, thinking, eating, experiencing, or wanting (Bennet, 2009), however, given that you can trigger tweets from data based events, it can even be used to let plants tweet when they need more water subtly or urgently (Ahmed, 2008). An example of a hman tweet might be “Writing a paper for COMM 563 about Twitter” while another might be “On my way to the hospital for baby Jim’s arrival” (Shropshire, 2009). It’s broadcasting worldwide, in real time, whatever you have to say, as long as it’s under 140 characters per tweet (Siegel, 2007). Following is a way of showing that you like someone’s tweets, profile, ideas, or product (Bennet, 2009). You follow by clicking a button that says ‘follow’ on another’s profile, which you find at http://www.twitter.com/username, where username is that user’s chosen name. Very often that username is expressed as @username. On Twitter, I’m known as @lemasney. Once you follow me, you see all of my tweets as part of a default stream of tweets from people you follow (Bennet, 2009).

Review of Literature

I found a great deal of relevant and recent literature talking not only about Twitter itself, but very specifically about how it’s being used by organizations to communicate effectively with stakeholders and constituents, though I found that studies and literature on the specific use of Twitter by academic organizations other than Libraries to be lacking. I’ll focus on six organizational use articles here, but please refer to the references section for more articles on effective uses of Twitter for sociological purposes.
Sarah Milstein writes in Twitter FOR Libraries (and Librarians) (2009) about how Libraries are sharing news that patrons want. They help followers discover events such as readings, lectures and book sales. They tweet about new resources and changes in hours. They give tips and tricks on how to find or access information in the Library’s systems. They link to interesting Library or literacy related news stories, or even new posts to their own site.
Milstein argues that since patrons are already using the system, that it provides one more point of contact with patrons. At just a few sentences a day, it is not much of an additional task for librarians to tweet (2009). She reminds us that while the core use of Twitter is as conversation, many libraries use it primarily as a broadcast mechanism, and reminds libraries to keep the conversational aspect in mind by asking followers questions, answering queries from followers, and making deeper connections through interaction (2009).
The article discusses many other ways in which libraries are using Twitter to communicate announcements, collection additions, events, observations, editorial, humor, and laurels such as recently acquired awards. These kinds of tweets go beyond advertising to start conversations about the topics, and potentially deepen connections with patrons (Milstein, 2009).
In Anoka gives Twitter a Try, Alex Robinson (2009) talks about a county that has begun using Twitter to communicate with its residents an other stakeholders. The article discusses how tweeting about county traffic, construction, accidents, and lane closures in order to inform and protect constituents can help to develop deeper relationships with followers, provide service, and create value for Twitter followers.
Martha Weaver, the county’s public information officer, currently uses the system to broadcast information about park and library events. She foresees using the system to tweet about police emergencies, such as kidnappings or robberies (Robinson, 2009).
Robinson notes that because the system is free, and requires no special hardware or software aside from a phone, that there is a low threshold to participation. However, because of Twitter’s reputation as an illegitimate source of information, Weaver has been ridiculed by some for trying to use the service in a legitimate way, despite its potential (2009).
Another civil Twitter account is documented in Ferak’s City of Papillion joins the Twitter Movement (2009). The City of Papillion advertises attractions, events, and also reminds city residents about registration for various upcoming opportunities. The city expects great growth in their followership as the word spreads about their account’s existence. They want to use the account to keep constituents informed about community events and local government. They see it as a way to give more people an opportunity to get their messages.
Police department use of Twitter is documented in Carrie Antlfinger’s Police forces all a-Twitter to get the word out. An example of a police tweet is “
Latest homicide in the city is NOT a random act. Male, 33, shot in 1500 block N. 39. More details as we have them (2009).”  There is a danger in this kind of official use of an informal tool, in that anyone can sign up as “Austin PD” and stick an official city seal on their account (2009). Other police uses for Twitter are to alert people to traffic disruptions, explain police presence in neighborhoods, or offer crime prevention tips. Some tweet about bomb scares, wildfires, lockdowns, or evacuations (2009). Police cite the same reasons that these other organizations are using the system: They are trying to connect with people where they already are.
Sports teams are also using Twitter to connect with fans, as explained in Tatalay’s Sports World Embracing Twitter (2009). Sports teams allow follower fans to get score updates, stadium parking tips, injury news, ticket sales numbers, last minute promotions, and free gifts.
I see immediate connections and parallels to the ways in which these methods could be used for academic purposes, especially in regards to event tickets, text book sales, parking lot updates, and faculty sick day tweets.
As a final entry in this fun if not thorough literary review, we look at a food establishment’s use of Twitter. Raasch explains in
Local restaurant’s ‘Twitter Tuesday’ draws social networking fans (2008) how by advertising 25% off meals on Twitter Tuesday that they are connecting with customers, giving them something extra for using the system, and rewarding followership with a monetary reward. It is not very clearly stated in the article, but one can assume that the restaurant tweets out a catchphrase in order to get 25% off their meal. Those who follow on Twitter get the discount, while those who don’t pay an extra 25% for their meal.

Research Questions

Given the Literary Review, I wanted to ask some questions that I think are important, but not addressed in the literature. I also wanted to ask questions that I could answer by personal research or by secondary research, since primary longitudinal or survey based research was impossible here.
Question one: Can Twitter be used to follow a select group of people, such as members of a particular University?
This is a concern because the Public Timeline (a list of everyone’s tweets) is wild with activity from everyone, which can be counterproductive if you’re only looking for things regarding your constituents. Since Twitter’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are open and publically available, better tools (than the website itself) can be built by developers in order to interact with the system (Silverman, 2009).
TweetDeck, one of these third party tools, makes for better Twitter management, because it allows for the management of groups of tweeters (by school groups, classes, or cohorts, for example) as well as filtering of streams of tweets by keywords or communicated hashtags. For example, we all might all agree (as a result of concentrated communication to do so) as members of a Yourtown University to add the hashtag “#yourtownu” to our tweets in order to allow people to follow conversations that concern Yourtown University. If we want to follow tweets of users who used #yourtownu all the time, we might create groups in TweetDeck based on that hashtag, so that all Yourtown University tweets show up in a single stream.
Question two: How might Twitter make for an effective classroom tool? There are situations in the classroom where you might want to poll the students in order to discover what the general feeling is towards a question, such as “Is A or B the correct answer?” or “What was the way that the main character died?” in order to do a quick assessment of understanding. With Twitter, everyone could answer simultaneously, and you could get a real-time assessment of understanding. There are even tools for doing these kinds of Twitter based assessments, such as the one found at http://twtpoll.com in which you can create the question and answers, then tweet the link to the poll.
Given the hashtag methodology on Twitter, you could easily follow a class discussion by asking students to use a common hashtag related to the class when tweeting about class topics. This class might have used #comm563. For instance, I might tweet tonight that I’m “finishing up my final paper of the semester – yay #comm563 #yourtownu09” in order to keep both classmates, teachers, and cohorts informed of my progress. With Twitter, I can commit to continuous distant learning through the sharing of links, reference material, and current related topics as either student or teacher.

Question three: How might twitter make for an effective student services tool? Student Financial Services could tweet about deadlines and opportunities in addition to other communications like some of the other organizations we read about in the literature. Career services could tweet about upcoming resume and etiquette events. Campus activities could remind students to offer suggestions for movies, outings, and parties. Academic Departments could tweet about the availability of electronic registration for their most popular classes as soon as they become available.

Question four: How might Twitter be used to grow academic relationships?
Twitter works best when it is used to start or continue a conversation (Milstein, 2009), and I see it as a way to have a conversation about campus and institutional culture (Milstein, 2009). One of the cultural phenomenons at Yourtown University, let’s say, is that on Mondays everyone wears Maroon as a way of celebrating the school color, and the way that this translates to Twitter is that on Mondays, Yourtown University Tweeters might tweet what they love about the University and add the hashtag #maroonmondays (Raasch, 2008).  Baker (2008) tells us of a third party Twitter based site called twitstori.com in which the public timetine is filtered to show only what people are wishing, feeling, and thinking. This could easily be modified to show only respondents from a particular university, especially if they are using hashtags in conjunction with the phrase “I feel.” (Baker, 2008)
Analysis via concepts

Twitter is bottom-up media in that it is participated in by anyone who meets the minimum technology of inclusion, a phone or an internet connection (Siegel, 2007). The numbers of people using Twitter to add to the collective conversation is staggering. A series of Pew surveys from February 2008 showed that 11% of online adults used Twitter and similar services, up from 9% in November 2007, up from 6% in May of 2007 (Horowitz, 2009). $15 to $20 million was raised in capital for the company in 2008 (Baker, 2008) and apparently $500 million was offered by Facebook, a rival social network, and was turned down (Johnson-Elie, 2008). In 2008, Baker found that “estimates for the Twittering masses range between half a million and one million active users” (2008). Topper reports that “according to Nielsen Online, Twitter recorded 2.3 million visitors in August 2008 in the U.S., an increase of 422% from the same period in 2007” (2009). Since all of those people are adding their own small bits of conversation, we can clearly see this as consumer driven, bottom-up, social media, as opposed to monolithic, top-down, conglomerate driven media.
Because of its search tools, filtering capabilities, grouping and hashtags, and 3rd party information gathering tools, Twitter is a prime example of a way to tap into collective intelligence. If we can learn to use tools like Tweetdeck, Twitscoop, Twistori, and http://search.twitter.com effectively, we can begin to determine answers to questions by thousands of people who didn’t even necessarily hear the question (Milstein, 2009). If we want to know what people are wishing, thinking, feeling, we can use tools like Twistori which are already filtering for those phrases (Baker, 2008). If we want to know what the most popular food is for dinner, we might do a search on Twitter for the phrase “for dinner tonight” or on the hashtag #dinner. As a result, we’ll likely see a stream of tweets about what people are thinking about having for dinner, with the potential bonus of connecting with those people to get more information, like recipes, cooking methods, restaurant suggestions, or favorite dishes (Milstein, 2009; Baker, 2008).

I feel that Twitter provides agency, or the ability for a user to become empowered in choosing their own path to an answer through the system (Dewberry, in class, 2009). By learning the methods, functions and culture of the system, I gain a framework by which to begin to use it, but due to the seemingly endless flexibility of the system, I can begin to develop new ways of using the system that were not originally envisioned (Conan, 2009).
Twitter exemplifies the glitch aesthetic in that the tweets themselves often take on a broken, condensed, and illiterate look in order to meet the needs of the 140 character limit, while still conveying a great deal of information. There is also a great difference between the beauty of the content of the message and the way in which it’s delivered. For instance, I might be limited to the 140 characters “rly njoyd nite out w/ gr8 frenz in Ytown tvrn go2chkthe pix http://snip.it/gfhr #yourtownu #maroonmonday lets do it agin asap plz chezbrgrs” but this would translate to “I really enjoyed the night out last night with my great friends in Yourtown Tavern. Please go take a look at the pictures I took available at http://myphotosite.com/long/url/needs/shortening/pictures.html. I go to Yourtown University, and I’m very proud of it. Let’s all do it again very soon, please. Next time we’ll have cheeseburgers!”. One appears more elegant than the other, but the content of the message is interchangeable.
Because Twitter is able to be interfaced with from phones, internet web sites, and other methods, it gives me flexibility with which to interact with it. Because the system allows me to send people to text, photos, videos and other media, it gives me flexibility with regards to the kinds of media I share. Because it allows me to connect, share, interact, and respond to others, it offers me flexibility in my communication needs. Because it allows for self-publishing and the selective collection of others’ publication, it offers me the flexibility of production and consumption of media. Because it has technology, social, industrial, and production layers, it offers me flexibility in regards to the ways in which I connect with others. It is an ideal exemplar of the concept of convergence.
Twittiquette for organizations

One thing that was especially useful in the literature (paraphrased here from Milstein’s piece on tweeting libraries) were some pieces of advice on etiquette for organizations on Twitter: Fill out your organization’s profile completely and include a URL and biographical information. Use the system as a way of conversing, rather than simply monolithic broadcasting. Use the search system at http://search.twitter.com in order to do daily searches for mentions of your institution. Follow everyone who follows you. Post between one and six times a day, as less is considered inactive, and more may be seen as overtweeting. Ask questions, solicit feedback, and tweet the results (Milstein, 2009).
Conclusion

Twitter is a not yet fully discovered tool for making “ambient intimacy” connections in academic circles outside those of cohorts, friends, and classmates (Salas, 2009). The no-cost entry, ease of use, and casual methodology are welcoming to all levels of technology user. It allows for an effective broadcast of ideas into a public stream of consciousness which can be filtered, searched, and analyzed for relevant content.
Libraries are using Twitter to connect and converse with patrons. Counties and cities are connecting with their residents, announcing events, sharing information. Police departments are making the public aware of threats, reminding parents of best practices in safety, and relaying traffic information. Sports teams are connecting with fans, sharing scores, injury updates, and other news.
How will academia begin using this tool to connect students, parents, administrators, staffers, community representatives, event planners, technology workers and other higher education stakeholders. We begin by signing up, by not being fearful of the unknown and unwritten rules. We begin sharing what we love about our piece and place of academia. We begin to build our vocabulary, hashtag by hashtag and follow by follow. We retweet the best parts, share links to concept related sites, tweet photos of our athletes winning and our students succeeding. We take our strategic plans, community values statements and best outcomes and share them with the world, 140 characters at a time.


References

Ahmed, M. (2008). This week: Twitter for plants. Times, The (United Kingdom). Retrieved April 28, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=7EH3109922385&site=ehost-live.

Baker, S. (2008). Why Twitter Matters. Business Week Online, 15. doi: Article.

Bennett, K. (2009). IT’S A BIRD! NO, IT’S TWITTER: Another phenomenon of social networking. American News (Aberdeen, SD). doi: Article.

Carrie Antlfinger. (2009). Police forces all a-Twitter to get the word out. Toronto Star (Canada). Retrieved April 28, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6FP0985514290&site=ehost-live.

Conan, N. (2009). ‘Ev’ And ‘Biz’ See Bright Future For Twitter. Talk of the Nation (NPR). Retrieved April 28, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6XN200903111502&site=ehost-live.

Ferak, J. (2009). City of Papillion – tweet – joins the Twitter movement. Omaha World-Herald (NE). doi: Article.

Garrison-Sprenger, N. (2008). Twittery-Do-Dah, Twittering Pays. Quill, 96(8), 12-15.

Hansen, L. (2008). How Twitter Can Change the Presidential Debate. Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR). Retrieved April 28, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6XN200806221303&site=ehost-live.

Horowitz, E. (2007). What’s hot online? Techies like Twitter and Mint. Orlando Sentinel, The (FL). doi: Article.

Horowitz, E. (2009). Twitter use grows by tweets and bounds. Orlando Sentinel, The (FL). doi: Article.

Johnson-Elie, T. (2008). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tannette Johnson-Elie column: Twitter blends online networking, instant messaging. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (WI). doi: Article.

Johnson-Elie, T. (2009). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tannette Johnson-Elie column: Twitter goes beyond socializing. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (WI). doi: Article.

Milstein, S. (2009). Twitter FOR Libraries (and Librarians).. Online, 33(2), 34-35. doi: Article.

Parag, N. (2009). Internet industry sees Twitter taking off in Israel: LGiLab GM Ohayon: It just needs a prominent character outside of high-tech. Globes (Israel). doi: Article.

Raasch, J. (2008). Local restaurant’s ‘Twitter Tuesday’ draws social networking fans. Gazette, The (Cedar Rapids, IA). doi: Article.

Robinson, A. (2009). Anoka gives Twitter a try: The county is gauging how a social networking site can help it stay in touch with residents. Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN). doi: Article.

Salas, R. A. (2009). Why Twitter? Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN). doi: Article.

Shropshire, C. (2009). Major life events being broadcast on Twitter. Houston Chronicle (TX). doi: Article.

Siegel, R. (2007). What Are You Doing? Twitter Offers a Megaphone. All Things Considered (NPR). Retrieved April 28, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6XN200705212110&site=ehost-live.

Silverman, D. (2009). Houston Chronicle Computing column: Twitter’s got versatility. Houston Chronicle (TX). doi: Article.

Talalay, S. (2009). Sports world embracing Twitter: Sports franchises have been quick to embrace Twitter’s ability to keep them constantly in touch with fans and the media. Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL). doi: Article.

Topper, H. J. M. (2009). Do You Tweet? Long Island Business News, 56(3), 16A. doi: Article.

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Additional Articles to support “Twitter is Making Us Brilliant”

03/19/2009
Image representing comScore as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Another article on Twitter‘s stratosperic growth at impressive rates, I’m going to use this to support statistics on how big the phenomenon is.

Maybe it is all the TV news mentions, but Twitter is seeing the growth in U.S visitors to its site accelerating. In February, 4 million people in the U.S. visited the site, up from 2.6 million the month before, according to the latest data from comScore. That represents a 55 percent month-over-month growth rate, compared to 33 percent growth in each of the two months prior. (ComScore has yet to release February figures for worldwide visitors, but for January that number is 6 million).

via Whoa, Twitter Mania.

Here is an article with a list of eBooks that I may or may not be able to make use of, all free, all about some aspect of Twitter, any of which may come in handy:

Approximately 24 hours ago, internet marketing firm HubSpot released its first State of the Twittersphere report for the fourth quarter of 2008, analyzing assorted growth rates, following/follower ratios, and geographic data.

Among the results, we now know about 7,500 people join the Twitter ranks every day; 35% of Twitter users have 10 or less followers; and nine percent follow nobody at all.

Source: 8 Free eBooks on Twitter — AriWriter
from http://ariwriter.com/2008/12/8-free-ebooks-on-twitter/
retrieved on Thu Mar 19 2009 21:56:35 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
Also, here is an article on the idea that social network users can be generally classified into two groups (obviously playing on Theory X Theory Y construct of leadership and motivation, e.g. http://www.12manage.com/methods_mcgregor_theory_X_Y.html) as a way of introducing that I personally am of the Y type (in both theories)

As sites like Twitter and Friendfeed continue to increase in popularity on the web, so does the potential for users to extract value from these communities. However, while there are many people who love to be at the forefront of it all, others are only there because they have to.

I’ve found there are [VERY] generally, two schools of thought on Social Media and it’s future.   There are the skeptics who I call Type X thinkers, and the believers who I call Type Y thinkers.

Source: On Social Media, Are You a Type X or Type Y Thinker? | introspective snapshots from http://www.sheysmith.com/2009/03/17/on-social-media-are-you-a-type-x-or-type-y-thinker/ retrieved on Thu Mar 19 2009 09:12:07 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

Here’s a short indication of how Tweeting can inform in ways that you might not expect, or want, but clearly an indication of collective intelligence (italics are mine)

A lucky job applicant tweeted the following:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

This tweet caught the attention of Tim Levad, a channel partner advocate for Cisco. To which he responded:

Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.

Ouch! The person who dissed the Cisco offer quickly took their Twitter account private. But Twitter search retained the record.

Source: socialmedian: How to Tweet Your Way Out of a Job from http://www.socialmedian.com/story/3566274/how-to-tweet-your-way-out-of-a-job retrieved on Thu Mar 19 2009 09:26:30 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

And here is another article speaking about Twitter’s astronomical growth:

The latest numbers from Nielsen Online indicate that Twitter grew 1,382% year-over-year in February, registering a total of just more than 7 million unique visitors in the US for the month. Not only is that huge growth in one year, but in one month as well, as in January, Twitter.com clocked in with 4.5 million unique visitors in the US, meaning the service grew by more than 50 percent month-over-month.

Source: Twitter Now Growing at a Staggering 1,382 Percent from http://mashable.com/2009/03/16/twitter-growth-rate-versus-facebook/ retrieved on Thu Mar 19 2009 17:21:50 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

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Reading Review for March 17th, 2009

03/15/2009
Blogger (service)
Image via Wikipedia

1.  Provide a quick over view or summary of the readings  (3 – 5 sentences)   (8pts)

Blogging: What is it, and how has it affected the media is a broad scope article on blogging, and introduction with examples, counterexamples, and some effects of blogging on extant industries like the paper press. For someone who is wholly uninitiated to blogging, it gives a nice concise history, touches on some of the conventions and important notes (ease of use, early users, creators) and discusses some statistics and trends about the phenomenon.

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog is about the history and effects of a civic blogger on the Rockville Central blog. It talks about lessons learned, issues regarding censorship, impacts vs. scale, and lots of other issues regarding a small scale, wholly volunteer endeavor in order to support civic interaction using a forcefully unbiased blog.

2.  Clearly Identify what you feel are 3 key ideas in the readings (8pts)

One key idea is that a blog is simply a vehicle for content. The idea that the content is released chronologically is one special thing about blogging, but for the most part blogging is simply an easy, free interface for publishing any content to the web.

One key idea is that blogging can come with great responsibility, especially if an audience is involved.

One key idea is that blogging has very little in the way of thresholds. As each of us in this class has discovered, and as the Funny thing and What is it articles reiterate, there is no cost, very little learning curve, and wild potential for returns on investment while blogging, and it can be developed into a highly powerful platform for content.

3.  Support your summary and/or key points with three specific references to the readings (7pts)

My first idea that blogs are simply vehicles for content is supported in the following quote from What is it:

“(Blogs are) so very malleable that people are doing with it what they want to do,” Blood said. Her blag, “Rebecca’s Pocket,” is devoted to highlighting whatever catches her attentian, including the themes of media literacy, sustainability. Web culture and domestic life. She also pasts the occasional recipe.

My idea that blogging can be a responsibility laden venture is supported by the following quote from Funny thing from one of the blog’s readers who was questioning the blogger’s unilateral control of comment publication:

‘I fully agree with the need to keep the conversation civil, but any unilateral editing of comments gives me pause. It looks like both comments that were deleted were about one particular politician. I would like to get an idea of what was being censored to determine for myself whether or not it was appropriate. I want to know I can trust that this blog really is being neutral and not protecting certain people from public scrutiny.

My idea that there is very little keeping us from blogging and making an impact is supported in Funny Thing:

You don’t need an organization to have an institution. Rockville Central is literally two people who just spend time volunteering. There is nothing official about it, no phone number to call, no office to visit. Its only real expense is its domain name—about $6 per year. Yet it is enough of an institution that the mayor and some members of the city council have chosen to release statements through it. In city council meetings, office holders as well as citizens have spoken about something they have read in Rockville Central. It is unorganized, but it is still a community institution.to stay aloof from such things while still being relevant. It is a fine line to walk, and it takes willingness to resist flattery, threat, and cajoling.

4.  Identify the most difficult or challenging concept for you from this week’s readings.  Saying “I don’t know” or “nothing was difficult” is not an adequate response. (8pts)

One of the most difficult and challenging concepts for me is why blogging isn’t far more popular than it is. For me the allure is in the free soapbox. For me, it’s a powerful way to connect with the world, start conversations, and participate, collaborate, and pontificate. I have heard many of my classmates bemoaning the required posting in their blogs, and I’m not sure why. I can’t stop myself from posting something here, and love the opportunity to get to do something I was doing anyway as part of a grading structure. What is the resistance about?

5.  Provide 2 or 3 discussion questions for us to talk about in class (6pts)

1. What will the next evolution of blogging look like?

2. What is microblogging and how is it different that blogging?

3. What other major popular social networking system is Evan Williams partially responsible for, and how does it relate to blogging?

6. Discuss how this week’s readings might relate to your upcoming presentation, paper or to the “real world.” Here too, saying “I don’t know” or “it does not apply” is not an adequate response.  (8pts)

I’m doing a paper on Twitter, which is a form of microblogging. I see the posts that we are currently doing in blogs (such as civic blogging) as increasing in frequency, decreasing in size, maintaining attention, being sized for mobility, and developing a surge in interconnectivity. I feel like blogging is becoming more secondary to some of these kinds of primary interconnectivity networks, where we find out about the blog entries through our status updates, tinyurl links, and tweets.

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(re)Revised Thesis: Twitter is Making Us Brilliant.

03/08/2009
Twitter's Update Page
Image via Wikipedia

I am revising my thesis again, as per Professor Janes’ suggestion, to “Twitter is Making us Brilliant”

I intend to look at the ways in which our ability to microblog, search the shallow, fleeting web, and ask questions to the world and hear a deafening response will alter the ways in which we currently gather information. One of the ways in which Google is limited is that despite any effort to make Google into artificial intelligence, it is not a co-conversant. It is instead, an encyclopedia of a stored set of knowledge that is only updated with new knowledge as it finds it. It responds with the best estimate of what it thinks you want to hear, but using human language to look for something, rather than crafting a set of keywords, can be a frustrating experience.

Google is a text book.

If you ask 1,000 friends, on the other hand, through something like Twitter, you are far more likely to get the answer that you seek. the more people you add to your network, the greater possibility is that you’ll get a reasonable, accurate response. As the popularity of the service grows, so does its potential.

Twitter is a periodical, a magazine, a fleeting oft-published tract.

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Ping – Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds. – NYTimes.com

03/04/2009
GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 12: (FILE PHOT...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Here’s a take, very similar to mine, on the ways in which “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” gets it wrong. The rebuttal is deeper in the article, but I loved the tongue-in-cheek, but almost poetic way in which the author here demonstrates the power of Twitter in summarizing the Atlantic article:

To save you some time, I was going to give you a 100-word abridged version. But there are just too many distractions to read that much. So here is the 140-character Twitter version (Twitter is a hyperspeed form of blogging in which you write about your life in bursts of 140 characters or fewer, including spaces and punctuation marks):

Google makes deep reading impossible. Media changes. Our brains’ wiring changes too. Computers think for us, flattening our intelligence.

via Ping – Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds. – NYTimes.com.

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Skittles Twitters up a storm – Technology Live – USATODAY.com

03/04/2009
Skittles.
Image via Wikipedia

I was watching this unfold on Twitter over the day when it happened, and I thought it was brilliant. Since a friend shared this story with me, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about how this helps support my thesis, “Twitter is making us brilliant.” If other major companies were to use methods like this, we’d be able to see, with a glance and a scroll, how people felt about the product, what it was about, the current feeling people have about it, whether it matters, and so on. What’s more, we tweeps can participate in that discussion, and add to that knowledge. Skittles is more than a candy, it’s a brand, it’s a common idea that we’re all aware of, and likely all have experienced. Have you experienced Skittles? I have, and they’re okay. I prefer Peanut M&Ms. Could you imagine what might ensue if you were to have the same thing (relevant tweets) on the McDonald’s front page: people arguing over fat and calories, which sandwich was best (or worst), what combinations of menu items made for the best (or worst) meal, etc. And not just food companies, how about car companies, homebuilders, wireless phone services, and insert your own company here too (like Rider).

This is what that might look like: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%22rider+university%22 If you put up a site that showed tweets about you, what might you find there? What would it look like for me? Like this: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=lemasney

Over at Venture Beat, MG Siegler has a good post summarizing the tempest that has ensued, calling the move “either a sign of Twitter’s ongoing transition to the mainstream or of a candy company’s epic laziness.” No matter, it has certainly created a lot of buzz for Skittles, a unit of mega candy company Mars.

via Skittles Twitters up a storm – Technology Live – USATODAY.com.

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Week 5: revised thesis: “How Twitter is Making Us Brilliant.”

02/28/2009

Here’s my response to Week 5 Questions

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

My refined thesis is: “How Twitter is Making Us Brilliant: I will look at how social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook give you the opportunity to create a personalized and hand-built peer-knowledge search engine, one that allows you to piece together the perfect collection of minds to solve your particular problems, build a support network, and tap into that knowledge 160 characters at a time. ”

By using tools like Twitter, we tap into the following digital media convergence ideas:

  • Collective Intelligence (you can read and add to the collective intelligence in the system)
  • Participative Culture (you can mashup and riff on ideas, images, news stories, music, and other media, and use the social networks to advertise, offer, and trade the mashups and mods)
  • Twitter has a social layer (people interact using the system), a technology layer (web based and application interfaces are used to interact with the system), an industrial layer (this is an extension to phones, text messaging, HAM radio, Citizen’s band, and other media), and a communication layer (Twitter is primarily used to broadcast or monocast ideas), each playing their part in the convergence model.

Here are a few more articles I have selected as potential sources for the final paper, along with some summary of why I include them, and their relation to my thesis.

This first one, from ReadWriteWeb discusses some of the origins of the system, and specifically talks about the openness of the system and how that plays into Twitter’s popularity. For the technology layer, I went some authentic information on how it works on the server itself, and this article gives some of that background.

This week on Read/WriteTalk I had the opportunity to talk to Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter. One of the more interesting topics in the podcast was the open platform that Twitter has developed. We also discussed how the team came up with the idea for Twitter, different catalysts over the past year for user growth, and even how they came up with the name. Click here to read a transcript or listen to the full interview.

Address : http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/twitter_open_platform_advantage.php
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 17:53:32 GMT-0500 (EST)

The following article goes deeper into the specific platform and underlying technology used and some of the inherent problems with the technology in regards to scalability. I want to get into the technology layer very deeply, as I think it’s one of the least understood aspects of Twitter.

prevail-whale
Image by lemasney via Flickr

By various metrics Twitter is the biggest Rails site on the net right now. Running on Rails has forced us to deal with scaling issues – issues that any growing site eventually contends with – far sooner than I think we would on another framework.The common wisdom in the Rails community at this time is that scaling Rails is a matter of cost: just throw more CPUs at it. The problem is that more instances of Rails (running as part of a Mongrel cluster, in our case) means more requests to your database. At this point in time there’s no facility in Rails to talk to more than one database at a time. The solutions to this are caching the hell out of everything and setting up multiple read-only slave databases, neither of which are quick fixes to implement. So it’s not just cost, it’s time, and time is that much more precious when people can[’t] reach your site.

Address : http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000838.html
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 17:56:15 GMT-0500 (EST)

The following is a wiki that is used to document the development of the system, and talks very specifically about the Application Programming Interface that developers can use to interact with the system, even in ways that perhaps Biz Stone and Evan Williams might not have foreseen. The dynamic and open way in which people can develop for the system talks to the participatory cultural aspects of Twitter, as do the aspects mentioned above (e.g. mashups, media sharing, etc).

Welcome to the Twitter API wiki.  What are you coding?

Documentation

* Frequently asked questions
* REST API Documentation
* Search API Documentation
* REST API Changelog
* Migrating to followers terminology

Address : http://apiwiki.twitter.com
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 17:57:19 GMT-0500 (EST)

Here is an article that talks about an open source system that provides the same basic functionality as Twitter, but is free as in ‘free speech’ as well as in ‘free beer’, in other words, while Twitter’s API is published so that a controlled interaction can take place, the actual underlying source code for Twitter is not released for reuse. Laconi.ca source code, which is the basis for the twitter-like system called identi.ca, is available for free for you to run yourself, should you want to. This pushes the idea of participatory culture to a new level, and I’d like to speak to that in my paper.

Image representing identi.ca as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

The laconi.ca microblogging platform is as open as you could hope for. That elusive trinity: open source; open standards; and open content.The project is led by Evan Prodromou (evan) of Wikitravel fame, whose company just launched identi.ca, “an open microblogging service” built with Laconica. These are fast gaining feature-parity with twitter; yesterday we got a “replies” tab; this morning I woke to find “search” working. Plenty of interesting people have  signed up and grabbed usernames. Twitter-compatible tools are emerging.

Address : http://danbri.org/words/2008/07/10/367
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 17:58:35 GMT-0500 (EST)

This article speaks to the social layer of Twitter, the value that it holds for individuals in order to accomplish certain tasks. For me, I think of it as a search engine of active minds. A friend might think of it as a way to gather news. Another might think of it as a research tool. Someone else might see it as live entertainment. It’s a no-size fits all solution that meets a whole lot of different needs. This dynamism speaks very clearly to my idea that it can be a way for each of us to gain pertinent knowledge about our our topics.

Some argue that Twitter has value as a news source, and note that the first snapshots of the Turkish Airlines jet after it crashed near Amsterdam on Wednesday were transmitted via Twitter. But those crash photos could have gotten out just as quickly if sent by cellphone to another Web site. It’s tempting to dismiss Twitter fever as a passing fad, the Pokémon of the blogosphere. But it’s beginning to look more like yet another gateway drug to full-blown media narcissism.

It’s not just television, of course. Ordinary people, bloggers and even columnists and book authors, who all already have platforms for their views, feel compelled to share their split-second aperçus, no matter how mundane.

Address : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/28/arts/television/28twit.html?th&emc=th
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 18:44:58 GMT-0500 (EST)

This article speaks about the ways in which Twitter and other social network developers must do work to turn what many see as simply a pastime with infrequent hints of social justice, benefits, and assistance into tools that actively pursue those goals. I personally see these systems as being able to both entertain and assist, as well as inform, embrace, and transform us. However, I think the framework for this is there now, and it is up to us as users to use the tools as means to the best possible ends.

But Glen Lyons, professor of transport and society at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK, told the conference about a more established social network that is already beginning to deliver on its aims. Zimride is a carpool scheme powered by Google maps, a social network and, according to the Zimride site, a “ride-matching algorithm”. Since its inception in 2007, Zimride claims to have enabled some 300,000 users worldwide to carpool who might otherwise never have met.

Thorpe thinks social media applications like this one might be the way of the future. Facebook users might one day compete to see who can gain the most “global karma points”, he says – working for the greater good, rather than for their own amusement.

Address : http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16681-innovation-how-social-networking-might-change-the-world.html?DCMPeqOTC-rss
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 18:59:21 GMT-0500 (EST)

Here is a video in which one of the developers of the system talks about its explosive growth, and the trials of that kind of success. Also the participative cultural aspects of beautifully unintended uses by users is addressed.

In the year leading up to this talk, the web tool Twitter exploded in size (up 10x during 2008 alone). Co-founder Evan Williams reveals that many of the ideas driving that growth came from unexpected uses invented by the users themselves.

Address : http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/evan_williams_on_listening_to_twitter_users.html
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 19:53:57 GMT-0500 (EST)

Also here is an article on media overload, managing new media, and twitter’s role in that topic.

I am not new to social media, having been in newsgroups and chat rooms since the early 90s. I’m also not new to information overload, as I’ve always been a news junkie and a voracious reader. But every once in a while, my life changes with respect to how I give and receive information, and because everyone online has been discussing the same subject recently, I was driven to self-contemplation. I’ve decided I have been on information overload and have instinctively found ways to deal with it, and I will bet you have, too. How much of the following sounds familiar?

Address : http://blog.stealthmode.com/2009/02/28/rss-twitter-and-information-overload
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 20:32:45 GMT-0500 (EST)

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

The following site lists a number of open source software that provides the functionality of many popular online social networks. I’d like to use this to suggest that Rider, if they wanted, could have a social network of their own to share Rider specific knowledge, happenings, and other bits of collective intelligence. The concepts covered here include collective intelligence, sociality, participative culture (building your own services, for example) and bottom up media.

This is Vivalogo’s list of best free, downloadable, open source social networking software (kinda hard to say all these words 🙂 ).
Unlike some other lists you may find on the net, this one contains only really downloadable and functional software.
Note: listed in no particular order.

Source: Top 40 Free Downloadable Open Source SNS – 城市胡同
from http://www.wujianrong.com/archives/2009/02/top-40-free-downloadable-open-source-sns.html
retrieved on Sun Mar 01 2009 11:49:23 GMT-0500 (Eastern Standard Time)

Here is an interesting article that talks about a particular cultural activity in Twitter called retweeting, which is, just as it sounds like, tweeting another person’s post again fro your followers. The social action is a way of magnifying the original idea (which may or may not have been available to people in your network) by taking a good or useful thought and rebroadcasting to your network.

Retweeting allows the power of the network to take place, in pretty much the same way a blog link can extend the conversation from one blogger to a great many, sometimes at a very rapid rate. If you Tweet something of interest and you have an audience of 10, or 100 or 1000 and no one retweets it, that is far as your message goes. But if you have 10 followers, and one of them has 100 and he or she retweets you, your message reaches that many more people. If of you of this wider ring… and so on.

Address : http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2008/10/the-power-of-re.html
Date Visited: Sun Mar 01 2009 14:40:17 GMT-0500 (EST)

My social network
Image by luc legay via Flickr

Finally, David Pogue writes that Twitter is what you make it, which of course underlines the ideas of sociality, participative culture, bottom up media, decentralization, and other key digital mia convergence concepts.

I was serving on a grant proposal committee, and I watched as a fellow judge asked his Twitter followers if a certain project had been tried before. In 15 seconds, his followers replied with Web links to the information he needed. No e-mail message, phone call or Web site could have achieved the same effect. (It’s only a matter of time before some “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” contestant uses Twitter as one of his lifelines.)

Address : http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/technology/personaltech/12pogue.html?_r=2&nl=tech&emc=techa1
Date Visited: Sat Feb 28 2009 21:02:14 GMT-0500 (EST)

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