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):
… 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