On the Utility of Twitter

Twitter logo initial
Image via Wikipedia

As many of my readers know, I am very active on Twitter and Facebook; Facebook doesn’t seem to get a reaction from people any more, but people often wonder what the point of Twitter is. When I do tell people I’m on Twitter, the “I really don’t care what you had for breakfast” reaction is pretty common. Twitter still suffers from a bit of an image problem, but there is quite a large number of Classicists — professional, rogue, amateur, and lapsed — and plenty of folks in related disciplines on Twitter who are sharing some incredible things. Over the past couple of days, e.g., a group (who have all given me permission to post this) has been engaged in a rather interesting discussion which can serve to highlight why more folks might find Twitter to be useful for their purposes.

For background, Dr Penny Goodman was giving a talk at the British Museum as part of a program Lead the Way: Teaching Classics Through Material Culture. After giving her talk, she was tweeting about the other talks which were going on, in particular, one by Ray Laurence about Children in the Roman City. Here’s what spun out of that over the past couple of days (most of these are in order; some seem out of order temporally, but they don’t really offend the flow of the conversation):

https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71540345300729857
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/71642332453281792
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71648131128901632
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71674011402248192
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71676534418710528
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/71660221180813312
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71674185050632192
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/71674684411883520
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71674950351724544
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/71683585366691840
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71687613253300224
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/71691464446443520
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71690087775211520
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71699866375553024
https://twitter.com/#!/lizgloyn/status/71701963267522561
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71704586037112832
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71703374457876480
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71703022610292738
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/71713832338341888
https://twitter.com/#!/lizgloyn/status/71922683931144192
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/71928531973713920
https://twitter.com/#!/lizgloyn/status/71931670139379713
https://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72058102018609152
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72260288350662656
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72260669117968385
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72260865310732288
https://twitter.com/#!/lizgloyn/status/72331928883298304
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72352568327675905
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72352236579201024
https://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/72381506508693504
https://twitter.com/#!/pjgoodman/status/72382258752925697

http://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72375969956106240
http://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72376494843895808
http://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/72377716988588033
http://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72378039211802624
http://twitter.com/#!/3pipenet/status/72378737882181632
http://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72380628926078976
http://twitter.com/#!/TLockyer/status/72381286492274688

… the conversation will likely continue a bit, but hopefully one can see the potential utility of Twitter in a scholarly situation. Here we witness an excellent use of Twitter in ‘real time’ to discuss/clarify what might be a minor point in the grand scheme of things but is the sort of thing one might definitely want to file away/make note of for later. Some might suggest this is the same sort of thing one might get on, say, the Classics list, and to an extent that is true. But Twitter offers features which one tends not to find in more formal situations like the Classics list. First and foremost is the immediacy — where people might check their email a few times a day, folks seem to be on Twitter almost constantly. This is likely because Twitter is much more convenient to use on handheld devices which are pretty much omnipresent these days (yes, I know you can do email on your Blackberry, but it’s a bit of a pain). A spinoff of this is that queries tend to be answered within hours (if not minutes)  because folks don’t need to wait to ‘get back to the office’ to respond. I’m not sure if it’s a general statement, but people also seem much less likely to be a ‘lurker’ in a Twitter conversation if they ‘know something’ than they might be on a list (i.e. Twitter is less ‘intimidating’). Also worth mentioning is the fact that Twitter limits the length of replies to 140 characters also tends to keep everyone ‘on topic’.

One disadvantage which emerged as I was doing this post is the fact that Twitter doesn’t thread conversations like your email program or even Usenet might. If the conversation is short — say, four or five replies — it’s not a big deal, as Twitter seems to keep that many together in ‘conversation view’. But once it gets beyond five or so, it seems to have problems and one has to dig, which can be a problem depending on how many people one is following. Of course, that’s only a problem with longer conversations such as this one, and really should not detract from the obvious utility of using Twitter as yet another scholarly tool. Again, I (probably naively) foresee a day when folks not attending a conference (such as the APA or CAC) can get a feel for what’s going on because others are sharing via Twitter.

UPDATE (the next day): The conversation did continue a bit … I’ve added a few Tweets to give it ‘closure’ … Liz Gloyn has also written her view of the conversation

UPDATE (later the next day): see now also H. Niyazi (a.k.a. 3pipenet): From Pompeii to Cyberspace – Transcending barriers with Twitter

Nero Exhibition Catalog/Guide

Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome
Image via Wikipedia

Not sure how many folks have seen the scattered mentions of the Nero exhibition at the Colosseum that have popped up in various RSS and Twitter feeds, but Martin Conde has a link to the exhibition catalog (as a pdf) as part of his flickr photostream (look for the pdf link about half way down, just above “Comments and Faves”.

Hang Loose Romani!

The other day we mentioned that Sotheby’s catalog for their upcoming antiquities auction is up and, as might be expected, so is Christie’s. Christie’s, though, has a few items which catch my eye (although all are interesting — whenever these things come out, I am always amazed at how much ‘stuff’ we actually do have from the ancient world).  Topping the list is the item which prompted our headline:

Christie's Photo

This bronze hand dates to the second or third century A.D. according to the official description, and clearly proves the Romans invented the ‘hang loose’ gesture long before the Hawaiians (not really, but I’m sure someone will claim that).

Next comes this nice little figural askos:

We’ve blogged about sirens before, and about the perpetual confusion between them and mermaids. As this item shows, of course, they did have wings and really weren’t modified fish. According to this one’s official description, this item hails from late-fifth century B.C. Sicily. Not sure why an askos (for small quantities of oil) would be a siren-shaped vessel …

Last, but certainly not least of the items which caught my eye, is this Phrygian-style helmet:

The official description has this being a Hellenistic (3rd century B.C. or so) Phrygian Style helmet. What I find very interesting is the obviously modelled moustache on the cheekplates, which is something I haven’t seen before — actually, I can’t recall ever seeing a Phrygian helmet with cheekplates, although I’m sure they exist. It’s difficult to tell whether the somewhat similar item on this page has a moustache or not …

There are plenty of other interesting items, of course … check out the online catalog here