I’m a conference twit

I’ve been intertwittently tweeting for a little while. I haven’t yet got into a regular habit but it has increased since I got a phone with a good internet connection two months ago. I know there is some hatred of scepticism about interest in Twitter amongst fellow NN-ites so thought I’d post a recent experience.
I saw how useful conference tweets can be at a conference earlier this year. On that occasion I enjoyed reading the tweets but didn’t contribute any of my own. Last week I went to the World Conference of Science Jounalists and something moved me this time to jump into the conference tweetstream. I tweeted from several sessions on the first two days. On balance I enjoyed the experience and found it valuable, though I still have things to learn.
Here then is an account of my experience. First, some suggestions for successful conference tweeting.
Do one thing or the other – don’t try to twitter and write handwritten notes too. I tried it for one session but very quickly discovered that with only two hands I could not both write and tweet.
Check the hashtag. I tagged my first couple of tweets with #wcsj2009, which was the name of the conference. But then I searched Twitter to see if anyone else was posting and realised that everyone else was using #wcsj so I switched. On the last day I saw a tweet from someone bemoaning the fact that they’d been using #wcsj2009 for the past two days so hardly anyone had seen their 140-word pearls of wisdom. The conference website will probably have something about the recommended hashtag.
Start early in the conference. At first only a small number of people at the conference were tweeting so it was easier to gain visibility. Later the stream went into spate so it was harder to stand out.
Follow the stream. OK, it’s hard to listen and type at the same time but it’s possible. Unfortunately you also really need to see who else is tweeting and what they are saying, so you have to read as well as listen and write. I found it useful too to see how others styled their tweets.
Report or comment. If several others are already reporting a session then there’s not a whole lot of point in tweeting the same content. You might prefer to step back and fill in any gaps you see, or to add your reflections, reactions or humorous interjections.
Hardware. I used my phone for much of the time as I had some troubles with the conference wifi. It did make it rather slow. For the sessions I was using my netbook it was much easier. I think netbook/laptop is better if you want speed.
Software. Something that lets you easily flip between reading other people’s conference tweets and typing your own is best. I noted that Tweetdeck is popular. I used Twitterfall on my netbook and Twidroid on my phone. Neither was ideal. I will do more research before the next time I need to tweet.
I found a few benefits:
Parallel sessions. When there are parallel sessions it can be nice to see what’s happening in the other sessions (yes, you have to listen, type, and read multiple tweetstreams!). Once or twice I noted tweets from people I knew were in a different session to me, but they were tweeting very much the same points that were being made in the session I was at. A nice bit of intextuality.
Followers. I was surprised to see how the number of my followers increased rapidly during the conference. Tweeting begets followers it seems. I was flattered to see some estimable names among my new followers.
Conversations. More than conversation started up when someone saw my name badge and said “Oh, I’ve been reading your tweets”.
Notes. At the end of the conference the twitterstream (either your own, or the whole lot) makes a pretty good set of notes to draw on if you want to write a report.
I still have a few reservations, or questions:
Tweeting for the hashtag or for your followers? Producing all these snippets from the conference so that others can read them when they search for the conference hashtag is all very well, but I wonder what my regular followers made of it all?
Retweet or not? Retweeting is useful if you see a good tweet from another conference attendee that you want to share. But then that tweet gets duplicated in the conference twitterstream. Maybe that’s OK, but it does get a bit boring when you see the same thing for the sixth time. OTOH, it was exciting the first time I saw one of mine retweeted.
Is it scalable? Rather like blogging, it’s only useful while only a relatively small number of people do it. If all 900 conference delegates had been tweeting all the time, there would be no way to absorb that much information.
Why me? Following on from that, why should I presume to be one of the Twitterers? It was dispiriting inspiring to see someone else tweeting brilliantly and in great volume. @edyong209 was so quick and accurate that I wondered what was the point of continuing with my slow tweeting. I felt a bit better when he was given an ABSW award at the conference grand reception – he is a genius science writer so of course he is a great twitterer too. I need to work better on finding my angle.
As Martin Fenner has written there are good reasons not to go to conferences, and I expect that following conferences remotely will become more popular over the next few years. Twittering at conferences is one way to share your experience with people not at the conference.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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4 Responses to I’m a conference twit

  1. Frank Norman says:

    I just spotted that Ed Yong has offered his view of live-tweeting the conference.
    Also, see the complete twitter transcript – about 2,500 tweets.

  2. Angela Saini says:

    I loved reading the WCSJ tweets for the sessions I couldn’t make it to, even though I don’t use Twitter myself. It’s almost like spying

  3. Martin Fenner says:

    How much was FriendFeed used at the conference?

  4. Frank Norman says:

    Well, I didn’t use it. I can’t see a WCSJ room on FF. Quite a few people’s wcsj tweets are fed through to FF but there doesn’t look to have been much FF discussion. I guess that community are not into Friendfeed.

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