Using Twitter as a Tool

Laura Dec, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

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Last month while attending the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City, Twitter was in full effect throughout the conference (as to be expected), however the most interesting use for me was that attendees were encouraged to tag their tweets within each track of the conference to help facilitate Q&A at the end of each session.  Attendees also often "seconded" others' tweets on a topic they found an important one, which helped the most relevant topics bubble to the top. Speakers could keep an eye on the Twitter backchannel and answer audience members' questions as the session went on or at the end. 

Similarly, I recently read this great article from academHacK on ways Twitter is being used in Academia to help students stay active and involved in class discussions. Some of the benefits he noted include continuing "class chatter" inside and outside of the classroom, developing a sense of community among classmates, and allowing professors to instantly reach and gather feedback from their students.

Alternatively, many people have found creative ways to use Twitter to capture voices around the world.  George Mayo, an 8th grade English teacher from Maryland, created a Twitter account last year called Many Voices, in which he invited students worldwide to help him create a story, by adding a sentence or two to the ongoing log of tweets. Within six weeks he had a complete story, via the addition of sentence-by-sentence plot lines from more than 100 students across the globe.  He then self-published it using LuLu and made it available as a free download.

You may have also noticed recently Twitter's Election 2008 site, which provides an ongoing log of users' thoughts across the country.  It's pulled together based on specific election-based keywords and updated in real-time. It also shows what election-related topics are hot at the moment. I tuned into this during last week's vice-presidential elections and found it pretty darn cool (and helpful, since I'm not exactly a political expert) to hear the voices of the peopl who were watching what I was watching, whether next door or hundreds of miles away.

I find it pretty remarkable that the world has adopted Twitter so creatively -- as a tool for use in all different sectors of society that captures voices we otherwise might not have access to -- particularly in those cases like the election coverage and Many Voices. 

However, I wonder if the consequence of this evolution is that valuable offline communication in the educational and professional world is now being diminished.  During the Web 2.0 Expo, I debated whether handling Q&A through Twitter was minimizing human interaction (which is one of the main reasons I attend conferences like this). Did fewer attendees walk up to the microphones to ask questions or take the time to discuss their previous sessions with a neighbor? Are we limiting communication by transitioning it online, or are we actually expanding it?

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