If you haven’t heard of twitter, you should check it out, at least for reference and general knowledge purposes. But basically, it’s a “micro-blogging” platform where you post 140-character maximum messages about…anything. Kind of like facebook status updates (and many tie the two together), except that you can “follow” twitter feeds of certain users, much like one subscribes to a blog.
There are some major differences from a blog that violate the “micro-blog” concept, such as the sheer volume of tweets negating the chronological nature of the feed (imaging if you subscribed to a blog and every day there were 100 entries – you’d never keep up). But the analogy holds up well enough, and the character limit makes people be creative, in my opinion.
When I was at ELI 2008, in January, Twitter was heavily featured. They even had a screen where a user, named “ELI2008,” followed as many users as possible and there were LCD displays showing the feeds. This was a laudable effort, but the problem was that a select few people that used Twitter heavily and especially during sessions just overwhelmed anyone else trying to keep track. A colleague from another school and I challenged each other to actually keep up with and “compete” with such uber-twitterers, but did so at the cost of actually paying attention to the sessions which we were attending, respectively. So Twitter was a distraction.
However, at this past Educause conference in October, I think Twitter may have hit its stride. Yes, I follow a relatively small number of people – about 50 (many have 150-200+) so my feed isn’t quite as insane. And yes, I paid more attention to some tweets than others (yes, individual posts are called “tweets”). But I really do feel that I was able to be in one session, take notes, throw an important concept in twitter for others to read, and read similarly important concepts from a few others so that I had an idea of what happened in another session. A few times, I then went and found that person from the other session and got more information on one of their tweets.
I think I may have successfully balanced Twitter such that I gained information from two presentations at once. Was I multi-tasking? Absolutely. Was it continuous partial attention? I don’t like that term, so no. Was I switching rapidly from 100% my presentation to 100% Twitter feed? Yes. But that attention to the Twitter feed was for a split second (140 characters – you just can’t spend that much time there) so I wasn’t really distracted.
I think I may have found a place for Twitter for me.
Oh, and btw – I have made some really valuable contacts via Twitter. They might not think much of me (I’m not posting all that exciting of material, really), but I have learned a lot, and follow blogs of other people quite a bit as a result.