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  • ReTweet @Reply – Twitter communities

    Posted on April 27th, 2009 Lukas Koster 1 comment


    In my post “Tweeting Libraries” among other things I described my Personal Twitter experience as opposed to Institutional Twitter use. Since then I have discovered some new developments in my own Twitter behaviour and some trends in Twitter at large: individual versus social.

    There have been some discussions on the web about the pros and cons and the benefits and dangers of social networking tools like Twitter, focusing on “noise” (uninteresting trivial announcements) versus “signal” (meaningful content), but also on the risk of web 2.0 being about digital feudalism, and being a possible vehicle for fascism (as argumented by Andrew Keen).

    My kids say: “Twitter is for old people who think they’re cool“. According to them it’s nothing more than : “Just woke up; SEND”, “Having breakfast; SEND”; “Drinking coffee; SEND”; “Writing tweet; SEND”. For them Twitter is only about broadcasting trivialities, narcissistic exhibitionism, “noise”.
    For their own web communications they use chat (MSN/Messenger), SMS (mobile phone text messages), communities (Hyves, the Dutch counterpart of MySpace) and email. Basically I think young kids communicate online only within their groups of friends, with people they know.

    Just to get an overview: a tweet, or Twitter message, can basically be of three different types:

    • just plain messages, announcements
    • replies: reactions to tweets from others, characterised by the “@<twittername>” string
    • retweets: forwarding tweets from others, characterised by the letters “RT

    Although a lot of people use Twitter in the “exhibitionist” way, I don’t do that myself at all. If I look at my Twitter behaviour of the past weeks, I almost only see “retweets” and “replies”.

    Both “replies” and “retweets” obviously were not features of the original Twitter concept, they came into being because Twitter users needed conversation.
    A reply is becoming more and more a replacement for short emails or mobile phone text messages, at least for me. These Twitter replies are not “monologues”, but “dialogues”. If you don’t want everybody to read these, you can use a “Direct message” or “DM“.
    Retweets are used to forward interesting messages to the people who are following you, your “community” so to speak. No monologue, no dialogue, but sharing information with specific groups.
    The “@<twittername>” mechanism is also used to refer to another Twitter user in a tweet. In official Twitter terminology “replies” have been replaced by “mentions“.

    Retweets and replies are the building blocks of Twitter communities. My primary community consists of people and organisations related to libraries. Just a small number of these people I actually know in person. Most of them I have never met. The advantage of Twitter here is obvious: I get to know more people who are active in my professional area, I stay informed and up to date, I can discuss topics. This is all about “signal”. If issues are too big for twitter (more than 140 characters) we can use our blogs.
    But it’s not only retweets and replies that make Twitter communities work. Trivialities (“noise”) are equally important. They make you get to know people and in this way help create relationships built on trust.

    Another compelling example of a very positive social use of Twitter I experienced last week, when there were a number of very interesting Library 2.0 conferences, none of which I could attend in person because of our ILS project:

    All of these conferences were covered on Twitter by attendees using the hashtags #elag09, #csnr09 and #ugul09 . This phenomenon makes it possible for non-participants to follow all events and discussions at these conferences and even join in the discussions. Twitter at its best!

    Twitter is just a tool, a means to communicate in many different ways. It can be used for good and for bad, and of course what is “good” and what is “bad” is up to the individual to decide.

  • Tweeting libraries

    Posted on March 30th, 2009 Lukas Koster 4 comments

    Should libraries use Twitter ? Some web2.0 librarians think so, other people say it’s just a childish hype. Alice de Jong of the Peace Palace Library in The Hague wrote an article recently in the Dutch magazine Informatieprofessional (in Dutch), saying libraries should use Twitter as a means of quick and direct communication with their patrons. The Peace Palace Library uses Twitter as an automatic newsfeed .

    Library of Congress Twitter

    An interesting question is: how can an in essence exhibitionist individual social networking tool be used in an institutional way?

    What is Twitter anyway?
    Wikipedia says: “Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 bytes in length.” Basically a Twitter user broadcasts short messages to the web. Everybody can read these through that user’s personal Twitter page, or via an RSS feed on that page. Twitter users can subscribe to other Twitter users’ tweets by “following” them. In that case all followed tweets appear in their own Twitter stream. Twitter users can also reply to other tweets; this way it becomes a social networking environment. Tweets and replies are public, but there is also the option of “Direct messages”, that are private.
    Twitter can be used via the Twitter website, or applications on mobile phones (Like Twitterfon ), on PC’s (like Tweetdeck ), or through widgets in other websites, like TwitterGadget in iGoogle .

    Personal Twitter
    Exhibitionism: that’s what Twitter originally is of course. Twitter asks “What are you doing?”. You simply tell the whole world (or world wide web at least) what you’re up to. A symptom of the egocentricity of this decade.
    But somehow egocentric exhibitionism turned into professional cooperation and friendly conversation.

    I first heard of Twitter at ELAG2008, less than a year ago. Besides the tag to be used for blog posts about the conference, there was also an announcement for a Twitter hashtag to be used. (And this at a conference where social tagging was promoted against controlled vocabularies!). There were a number of library bloggers there, who were also on Twitter: digicmb, Wowter, PatrickD.

    Since then I started tweeting too, but I did not use it much until September 2008. Somehow I really took off in February 2009, as can be seen in my TweetStats page.

    Most people I follow or who are following me, are library people. Most of these also blog. So there is a kind of library2.0 community on Twitter, like there are all kinds of communities there. Some of my Twitter friends I know personally, I have met them, talked to them. Others I have only met on Twitter, but we do have agreeable, both professional and social talks. Remarkable: one of these Twitter friends I have never met “in the flesh”, is a colleague at the University of Amsterdam, but she works in the Medical Library, a long way from where I work.

    My subjects on Twitter:

    • football (soccer)
    • what I am watching on TV – music
    • what happens to me
    • politics
    • news

    but also:

    • metadata issues
    • day to day work issues
    • my IGeLU stuff
    • interesting blog posts
    • my new blog posts (like this one!)
    • interesting websites
    • library 2.0 news

    Twitter is also the “largest virtual expert helpdesk”, as digicmb recently experienced.

    My personal Twitter experience is like having chats and discussions with colleagues at work, or with friends in a bar, but with a much larger group; or attending some library systems conference, with professional discussions, and also with social events, but then a continuous, intermittent one, and without travelling.

    Institutional Twitter
    Now, how can an organisation, and in particular a library, use a tool, or rather a community, like Twitter for its own benefit?

    Twitter has been around for three years, but it is growing incredibly fast. In The Netherlands politicians use Twitter, like our Foreign Secretary. Well known people in all areas are on Twitter, example: British writer Ben Okri started publishing his new poem “I Sing a New Freedom” on Twitter, one line a day. Newspapers write about it, popular TV shows talk about it.
    So clearly, there is an ever growing audience. Libraries, as other organisations, should contact their audience where their audience is, so Twitter is another channel for communication.

    Organisations can use Twitter as an alternative for news items on websites, RSS feeds, blogs, etc. But is there an advantage in using Twitter instead of other web2.0 channels? I am not sure. Just like surfing to websites and subscribing to RSS feeds, people have to actively start “following” an institutional Twitter account. Organisations, libraries need to actively promote their Twitter channel for it to be a success. But they also need to actively maintain their Twitter channel, just like all other web2.0 activities, otherwise it will just fade away, as Meredith Farkas notices in her blog post “It’s not all about the tech – why 2.0 tech fails“.

    One advantage of using Twitter in libraries is the fact that it is getting beyond a hype. It will be one of the main channels of communication on the web.

    Another one might be the interactive possibilities of Twitter. Institutional use of Twitter is mostly one way traffic, a broadcast to whoever wants to “follow”, as opposed to personal Twitter. See for instance the Library of Congress and the Peace Palace Library.
    But as Alice de Jong points out, a number of libraries are choosing the “personal approach”. The tweeting librarian really communicates with patrons in order to promote closer contact between libaries and patrons.
    This approach might also be a replacement for current libary chat services.

    Personal institutional Twitter accounts could also be used as a means of representing the library as actual recognisable people, as has been promoted recently on a number of occasions. Patrons then will know library staff as experts in certain fields, instead of facing an anonymous organisation.

    Conclusion: yes, libraries should use Twitter, as long as they can get a reasonable “following”, and have an official policy and staff dedicated to maintaining it.