Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hey Haters, I'm Talking to You...

I personally find it a bit shocking and unfortunate that such a large portion of academia (including so many of my collegues at Western (!)) are still so quick to dismiss social networking tools, such as Twitter, as arrogant and frivilous.

This is not an attempt to argue that point - they are indeed arrogant and frivilous - but that's not all they are. Let's look a bit deeper here, put our social biases aside, and peek our heads out of our ivory tower.

Logic would hopefully tell us that it's not a tool itself that has inherent value, but how humans choose to utilize it...and any tool that is used incorrectly is of course, useless. Using a hammer to measure plywood is stupid-but does that make the hammer stupid? Does that mean that humankind should stop producing hammers all together and be left obstinately banging nails into our walls with soup cans, even though a hammer would have been much more efficient?!

Ok - so I got a bit carried away with the hammer analogy, but my point is: Twitter can be used for more than just letting the world know what you ate for breakfast or making fun of celebreties. There are great things that can come from active participation in the Twitter universe.

Many 2 Many is a group blogging network that discusses issues in social software and in 2007, one member of this community shared her Thoughts on Twitter:

"What Twitter does, in a simple and brilliant way, is to merge a number of
interesting trends in social software usage—personal blogging, lightweight
presence indicators, and IM status messages—into a fascinating blend of
ephemerality and permanence, public and private."

She mostly goes on about how great Twitter is for keeping in touch with those we care about - with which I agree whole-heartedly because the sad reality of the times is that we just don't have time to pick up the phone on some days - but the point that she makes that I find most important for professional purposes is her commentary on Twitter as an archiving tool. Everything that is tweeted enters into the online world of ephemerality. Think of the resources that could be compiled amongst thousands of Twitter users with the same research interests!

Not to mention...

The HASHTAG. What a fantastic markup tool. Hashtags allow us to apply a unique string of characters to a certain idea or subject. Theoretically, if we have thousands of quasi-intelligent people using Twitter intelligently, we'll be able to use it as a sort of search engine that brings up resources according to collectively intelligent group instead of a machine.

For example, if someone wanted to find out what people were saying about the Titanic, or recent research interests about the Titanic, or what kinds of resources to consult to learn more about the Titanic – all that person would have to do is search Twitter for “Titanic,” or better yet, “#Titanic,” and there, at this person’s fingertips, would be all the tweets that people with similar interests or expertise have tweeted with the intention of sharing it with a larger community (by tweeting with a hashtag, #Titanic).

The way Twitter is operating right now, this would produce pretty shotty results referring mostly to the characters Jack and Rose, however, that's not point. I think that this can be one powerful boat if we can get enough people on board - people with productive intentions.

I could go on about the benefits of Twitter, such as the SMS capabilities and real-time communication or the so-called multiplier effect that encourages interaction amongst very wide audiences that we learn from Dan Cohen's experiment with crowdsourcing, but it all kind of boils down to the fact that we need to learn HOW to use the vast webs of knowledge that are at our fingertips, and to not be afraid of or prejudiced against this learning process.

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