Yeah, Twitter is Dumb

Remember when everyone thought that twitter was dumb? I still contend it is one of the most important spaces on the Internet. The last two years I’ve personally observed the massive rise in use by our students at PSU. Either way, it is *the* way many of us know what is either happening or about to happen.


Tweets per Second

Really amazing. I can say that @cuizoo was one of the people cranking on twitter last night. We actually heard that Obama was going to give his press conference via twitter a good hour before the break in on TV. I am continuously amazed at how much social platforms have transformed the speed that conversations move forward. Sure we would have watched this amazing and historic event in our own homes unfold via TV a few years ago, but we certainly wouldn’t have been able to watch it with our friends and contacts globally.

Tweets per second.

What I noticed watching my wife was how engaged in a more global conversation she was while watching TV via social media. While this isn’t the same kind of thing that happens in a class, there are so many things to understand about what is happening here that is driving these new forms and patterns of behaviors. I still contend that twitter and Facebook are creating new forms of conversations that can support and extend traditional modes of learning … At a minimum last night’s events proves to me that people want to be able to instantly connect to people who matter to them to make events more meaningful. I am wondering how to connect those dots to a learning community.

Speaking of social media, how about the pictures from the White House on Flickr?

Twitter Annotations

After my post about Learning Design Summer Camp, Twitter, and building context from backchannel conversations, CogDog commented with a pointer to an amazing post by Tony Hirst that explains how to overlay Tweets on youtube video. Since my colleague Pat Besong had mentioned to me yesterday that the videos were starting to go up to the TLT YouTube space I thought I’d give it a try. I followed the directions which include using the advanced Twitter search to isolate a series of Tweets, running them through a script, and then uploading them as a CC track in YouTube — worked fairly well with only a few limitations.

Picture 5I didn’t do the entire series of tweets from the Lightning Round, but I do enough as a test to see it in action. I’ll try pulling this off with a larger session where there were hundreds of tweets blasting around the room. This has tremendous potential in my mind … the ability to reconnect the backchannel to the actual event is an amazing step forward in preserving pieces of the event as it was experienced live. I can envision not only using the Tweets, but also targeting blog posts that reference specific moments by overlaying annotations. This requires some more exploration. Thanks, CogDog!

For now, take a look at the video and don’t forget to enable the closed captioning.

Protect Yourself

Given the recent security breach at Twitter I’ve been rethinking all my passwords across the social web. I am now using a password management tool as well to help me keep it all straight. If you are interested in the goings on with Twitter and the Google Docs fiasco, I’d recommend taking look at, The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack, on TechCrunch. I’m not providing any sort of in depth commentary only because it is well outside of my space, but I would urge everyone to think about their own password strategy.

Private Networks

I read an interesting post by danah boyd this morning titled, “Twitter is for friends; Facebook is for everybody” that lays out an interesting teen use case for Twitter in light of Facebook’s continued growth and popularity. We’ve known for some time that the age demographic on Twitter is skewed much more towards my place on the spectrum than say college kids or teens. We also know that more and more high school (and middle school) kids are adopting either Facebook or MySpace as a place to connect and socialize with friends. It is in that point that danah makes a really interesting observation when she says the following in response to a high school student named Dylan that she recently interviewd …

What Dylan is pointing out is that the issue is that Facebook is public (to everyone who matters) and Twitter can be private because of the combination of tools AND the fact that it’s not broadly popular.

What she is saying is that because Facebook is so over the top popular with teens, their parents, relatives, and nearly everyone else that Facebook itself might as well be public. Sure it has a lock on the front door, but if every single person you know in real life has that key then there really aren’t any secrets. What is fascinating to me is the behavior “in the know” teens are exhibiting in Twitter to game this “openly private” conundrum they are in … they create private Twitter accounts so only their real friends (not Mom and Dad) can have access to. So FB becomes the place they shout everything, while Twitter is under the radar enough that they can whisper quietly to each other. Amazingly simple and amazingly smart. danah goes on to wonder if Twitter continues to become more popular will teens end up with yet another social network where they really aren’t free to be? Good question.

In my mind I see the same kind of thing emerging in my own social network use — I need different platforms to do different things. Facebook is overrun and I cannot use it like I really want to. Too many people have access to my profile for me to post some of the content I might want to post. Sure FB has the message features, but they feel really out of place — almost like I am violating some code of conduct by sending a private message to a single person in my network instead of writing it proudly on their wall. The Twitter direct message feels very different and I use that quite a bit more. I’ve felt the same pain with IM … over time I collect too many people that add way too much noise to my communications channels and have to create a new account. It seems like we are stuck in this loop and until something more like Google Wave hits we may be stuck in it. Any thoughts?

Social Media Lesson

A couple of weeks ago we held our annual Symposium on Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State. It was an amazing event once again — this time with just shy of 400 faculty and staff choosing to spend a beautiful Saturday with us. Our keynotes rocked, with David Wiley supplying a rallying call towards openness that has helped move our OER conversations forward. At lunch, danah boyd delivered a whirlwind of a talk that people are still buzzing about. One thing in particular was how both David and danah hung out with us not only the night before, but all day on Saturday. Up until this year none of our previous keynotes have stayed and chilled with us — they even joined us for the post Symposium party afterwards.

danah wearing the hat.

danah wearing the hat.

Sessions were excellent and the conversations in the hallways was lively. I could go on and on, but nearly all the sessions are now captured over at the Symposium site — including David’s keynote with a slick side by side widescreen presentation that our Digital Commons team came up with (danah is coming soon).

Click for full image

Click for full image

But this post is about something related … two things are lingering in my mind after the event. The first is how much Twitter was used during the event itself. The tltsym09 hashtag turned into a trending topic early in the morning — sometime during David’s opening keynote. That in and of itself is really cool and very interesting. The Twitter stream of the day is long and it does tell a bit of a story all by itself. But, sometime during the morning I realized that people weren’t really blogging the event like they had in the past — does a Twitter stream provide enough for those not there to grab onto? With the lack of sessions being blogged I am afraid we could be doing the event a disservice. I’d love to hear thoughts on how to take the Twitter stream and do some real sense making on it all.

Click for Full Screen

Click for Full Screen

The other big social media lesson I am taking away from the event has to do with Flickr and community tagging. Early on we decided to use the tltsym09 tag for the event across the social web. We were thrilled to see hundreds of photos flow into the tag aggregation on Flickr. What I wasn’t thrilled about was the hijacking of the tag by a cross dresser on his bed in lingerie. It didn’t offend me per se, but I know for a fact (from a couple of emails) some folks were mortified and I was asked to “fix” it. Flickr doesn’t really allow me to delete tags from other peoples’ photos and while the pictures clearly didn’t fit into our group, there was nothing about the pictures that would cause Flickr to pull them. Turns out it was simple to just contact the guy and ask nicely — he removed the tag.

This is one of the reasons people are terrified of openness and the social web — lack of control. It has caused us to rethink our own use of the social web, so we’ve created a Flickr account that will be the repository for our pictures, but it doesn’t solve the community stuff. I think we need to have a conversation about how we take advantage of the social web in light of the fact that it is as simple as watching the trending tags on Twitter Search and hijacking them to insert your product, pictures, etc into the flow of the emergent conversation. Funny how even after all these years of participating in an increasingly open way, we can continue to learn and adapt our usage to really take advantage of what we are learning.

Any thoughts?

Thoughts from the Twittersphere

Yesterday I spent some time at the College of Information Sciences and Technology’s Graduate Symposium listening to Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, Twitter’s Chief Scientist give a keynote talk. I’ve written about Twitter for a couple of years now, but what is so interesting about Twitter these days is what is going on behind the scenes. While they are a relatively new company, they are really working hard to make sense of the river of data that flows through the 140 character text box they offer. Abdur was the co-founder of Summize where they used analytics to discover trends across the web … when Twitter bought it he moved over to start decoding massive trends brought about by Twitter’s user base. Later in the day I was then on a panel with him talking about Twitter to those assembled it was very interesting to hear his perspective on things and to see how he is leading the way in making sense out of all of those Twitter messages.

As an aside, one of the questions that seems to occupy lots of cycles is about Twitter’s financial model. I could tell during the question and answer period yesterday it is something that gets the folks at Twitter a little frustrated. I recently read an article in Wired where they make the claim that Twitter can go for quite some time without worrying about that and I am betting they are figuring it out behind closed doors on their own time.

One thing he spent a lot of time on was how they can pull content from peoples’ tweets and find real news trends. He referenced Mumbai several times as an example of where Twitter was able to bring the terrorist attacks to our attention even before the news. We saw it a few weeks ago with the flight that landed in the Hudson … pictures and reports came from the Twittersphere before the news had any clue. This isn’t new for people who have been paying attention, but it was a good push for me to revisit the capabilities of Twitter Search. It seems like everyone is discovering the power Twitter has to offer.

Being on the panel reminded me of how interesting the Twitter experiment Scott McDonald and I did in the CI 597C course we taught last year. I got to talking with Abdur about it and the research we had planned to do … talking about it all has made me even more interested in using Twitter to better understand what is going on in my classroom. When I did a google search on how far back tweets go, I came across Twistory. It is a site that uses the API to pull out the exact time and content of any given user’s Twitter account. What is really cool is that you can then use Google Calendar to subscribe to the output to visualize the data.

Seeing Twitter Conversations

Seeing Twitter Conversations

Now this is where it gets really interesting to me … you can put anyone’s name into it and add their twitter stream to the calendar. This set off an ah-ah moment for me. What it means is that in a class you could easily visualize the backchannel conversation between and among students. Imagine how rich the data can be now looking at what happens in class — are students passing twitter notes, digging deeper into the conversation, exchanges resources, etc? This is the first time I’ve been able to create a tangible paper trail of the interactions happening behind the scenes. I can’t wait until Spring 2010 when Scott and I teach our Disruptive Technologies course. We met this morning at the coffee shop to start talking about how we would integrate this and we’ve decided that while we are focusing on our themes of community, identity, and design that we’ll ask students to do research into how the community is coming together and evolving by mining Twitter data in this form (or another). I can’t wait to see how it goes down and to explore other ways to use Twitter and its API.