Twitter in Plain English

Lots of library types use Twitter. I do. LISNews does. Jessamyn, Connie Crosby, Stephen Kellat, and so on.

And lots of people who are interesting to librarians use Twitter. For instance Leo Laporte and Robert Scoble are among the people I follow.

Still, some people just don't get why Twitter is so useful, cool, and just plain interesting. Perhaps this superb video from CommonCraft could help explain it.


Just because people don't use Twitter doesn't mean they don't "get it." And, actually, if I'd seen the video before I tried Twitter, I might not have tried it in the first place.

What I see from the video is what I'd call faux intimacy. I'm not Scoble's friend, and don't much care if he's having tea or what movie he's watching--and I can't imagine why even my close friends would care about the meal I'm eating or whatever. The "new side" of people you see in Twitter is whatever they choose to show you--no more authentic than blog posts or email, just shorter and even more random. (I saw one of the well-known twitterers you mention erupt in a semi-public setting, just once; it taught me more about him than any thousand 140-character messages ever could.)

I gave it a try--for a specific purpose (meeting "friends" at a conference) that it seems particularly well suited for. It took me very little time to discover that I'm not a twitterer. Of course, I rarely call people and say "What are you doing?" unless there's some awfully good reason. I found it neither cool nor useful, nor particularly interesting.

I'm not suggesting that anyone else shouldn't twitter. If you think it's great, more power to you. But I'll admit, I'm already getting tired of the evangelizing. Been there, tried it, didn't buy the T-shirt.

I totally agree with you there, Mr. Crawford.

Scoble isn't my friend either. I've never even seen the man, so a philosophical argument could be made that he's not actually real and someone just pretends to be a guy named Robert Scoble.

There seems to be no middle ground with Twitter. People either like it or they're apathetic to it. I enjoy it because I'm a nerd. Nerds I'm interested in, like Laporte and Scoble for instance, use Twitter. They say interesting things there. I guarantee you though, if Laporte's or Scoble's Twitter posts (I refuse to call them Tweets.) ever get boring, I'll remove them. So far, they're entertaining and useful to me, as is Twitter.

Then again, next year or even later this year, something could come along and make Twitter look so Web 1.0, or is it 2.0 and we've moved on 3.0? I can't keep up sometimes. Anyway, the great thing about the web is that, if you don't like what's being offered now... just wait a bit and check again later.

Arguments from authority are unacceptable. ~Carl Sagan

I've seen him. Well, he's a little unreal, but he does exist.

No argument here, though. Clearly Twitter has value for some, and that's great.

Who has that much time to update twitter before I have tea (every morning about 7ish if anyone cares. Bewley's with milk)

I don't see it as anything more than entertainment. I don't have that much free time as I do work for a living. Even when I was a public librarian I didn't have that much free time. I could not simply sit at the reference desk waiting for patrons to ask engaging questions. I have books to order, mail to read, classes to schedule, staff evaluations to do.... ad nauseum.

I'd have to give up the 10 or 15 minutes I spend on LISNews to fiddle with twitter and frankly I doubt anyone would care what I am doing.

It amazes me that some people who are vocally opposed to RFID tags are enamored with Twitter (not directed to WC or GWD - just a thought I had while typing).

That explains it! I love RFID tags! Used properly, they're a Circ guy's dream come true!

Pity they aren't always used properly.

Arguments from authority are unacceptable. ~Carl Sagan

Hmm. I'm only opposed to RFID if a library adds them both to the collection and to the library cards. At that point, they're a confidentiality risk.

In other cases--which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much everybody--I think they're probably a good thing. (My local library just reopened after being closed for a RFID the collection and to install a returns sorter. Both, I think, good things.)

Of course, I'm not *opposed* to Twitter. I just have no use or time for it.

There is no good reason to place an RFID on a library card.


Someone could spoof RFID tagged books and what, change the info? Maybe fiddle with the item information, what little is actually contained on the tag? (I'm a big believer that the only thing that should be on the RFID is the item number/barcode number and the material type so a self service knows whether or not to hit it with the electromagnet.)

With a RFID library card... oh man. I can think of six or seven things to screw with right there, even if the patron's personal info isn't there.

Arguments from authority are unacceptable. ~Carl Sagan

...but one vendor was, at one point, pushing such a solution. The same vendor was also pushing RFID in books. When I presented the person with the reasons this was a horrendous idea, they basically did a handwave. (You know: "Oh, you can't read the chips from more than an inch away; Oh, nobody could correlate borrower ID and book ID with actual person/book info; Oh, there's no privacy/confidentiality issue...") I suspect (but don't know) that people weren't buying the concept.

Everyone out there in Electric LibraryLand needs to read this paper:

It outlines a method to hack RFID smart cards at distances of miles. All of it's based on one simple notion: An RFID reader doesn't have to look like an RFID reader. RFID readers are small and can fit into a lot of seemingly innocuous things. I could convieveably build one into the hard case protecting my iPod. My iPod can be there and working just fine. RFID doesn't affect iPods. Meanwhile I casually walk by someone and snag their card information just by being close enough to them.

Arguments from authority are unacceptable. ~Carl Sagan

"Still, some people just don't get why Twitter is so useful, cool, and just plain interesting."

"Cool" and "interesting" are intangibles, so I won't argue, even if I don't agree. But the video did not address how Twitter is "useful" -- at least to people who prefer authentic, human connection with their friends.

Did you mean that Twitter can be "useful" to librarians, in a professional way? If so, then how?

You know, funny you should ask.

Because LISNews routes all new stories to Twitter, I can see them before I ever hit my RSS reader. Even when I'm on the front desk, I have GMail opened and logged in and thus, I get my Twtter from Gtalk most of the time. So if something interesting gets posted to LISNews, I know about it almost immediately after posting.

A few minutes ago, literally, one of my Twitter followers gleefully announced that her book is doing pretty well on pre-order. I didn't even know she wrote a book. Bouncing over to the Amazon link she provided in the Twtter post, I took a look and sent an e-mail off to Adult Services too see if we could order it for the collection.

Beyond that, one of the things Twitter is good at is integrating with other technologies. Blogs direct to Twitter which give a quicker access than RSS. The Los Angeles Fire Department posts incidents to Twitter. While they aren't a library, they use Twitter to provide information to the public on incidents that might effect them. Twitter can route SMS messages to cell phones (which is why updates can only be 140 characters long). So if you're driving around LA and you get a message that there's a bad accident on X Street, you know to avoid that area.

That part may not be library related, but it sure ties well into information distribution.

I've also heard of some places using it like a trouble ticket system. After all, it goes out quickly, archives automatically, and you have to be clear about the problem since you only have 140 characters. Probably not a great thing for a large enterprise, but for a small business or library, I could see that working. You can make Twitter accounts private and thus maintain some control over who can see them.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

Until I saw it put to use at a conference. My opinion it's usefulness is limited, but people come up with good ways to use it. No me mind you, so I can't explain. Just cuz I don't get it doesn't mean it's useless though. I put it more in the fun category.

Twitter is definitely not a one-size-fits-all networking tool. I use it to connect with people around the world who are interested in social media and social networking tools as I am. I meet people at a lot of different meetings and conferences, and normally would forget who most of them all. If we can connect somehow through a tool such as Twitter or LinkedIn, I am likely to keep that person top of mind. Being able to talk with them via Twitter allows us to push past mere casual acquaintances.

Here are a few of the work-related ways I am using Twitter:

- organizing informal face to face meetings with people
- promoting events; letting my friends and contacts know what is happening in our city and elsewhere
- learning about key events in my city
- micro-blogging key information coming out of talks I attend for those who cannot be there (and reading those others are attending)
- hearing about important articles and blog posts in my areas of interest first, allowing me to take part in those discussions early
- promote my own writing and projects; I get a great number of blog/web hits from Twitter since the people who are following me are interested in what I am pointing them towards
- brainstorming ideas (see my blog post yesterday for an example)
- seeking reference/research help from colleagues, such as obtaining suggestions for where to look next
- seeking tech assistance when I can't figure something out myself with some of the social networking tools
- connecting with people who have potential work for me (I have just started a consultancy and am already sourcing work from the people in my Twitter network)
- looking for people who may be able to help me in my work
- hearing about international news (usually big stories hit Twitter before mainstream news)
- since I am working from home, it lets me feel connected and acts as my "water cooler" break during the day
- And my particular favorite: guerrilla librarianship - I nudge people towards library services who might not otherwise think of them. I sometimes answer questions as if they were reference questions, and also promote critical thinking about web sources--all the while pointing out in a fairly public forum how librarians can help.

This last one is a win-win because people find the answers they are seeking, and the image of library staff gets boosted with a group that might not think about using libraries.

That being said, it is a time-consuming pursuit. And, it takes having a certain number of people you are following and a certain number of followers (roughly 30?) before you really start to see the benefits. After a year consciously building a following, I have close to 700 followers--imagine how many of those I could mobilize if I need help with something. Wow.


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