Twittering conferences: public notes, the back channel conversation, and other uses
A lot of people who haven’t used twitter ask, “What’s the point?” A fair question, at first glance. With a limit of 140 characters and streamed to the whole world, tweets are too short for meaningful analysis, and distributed so widely as to be too diffuse to be considered a “conversation”. And yet, their use and value can be quite amazing, particularly in the context of a conference.
Many people at meetings take notes; scribbling down their thoughts, noting interesting things that people said, or links to follow-up on for more information. Why keep those notes in your hands only? Others might benefit from sharing these ideas – and credited to the speaker if they are theirs. You might benefit too, by broadcasting your interest in those ideas. Several times, when I’ve expressed fascination or interest in some comment, others monitoring my tweets will pass along additional information. Similarly, people who I don’t know and have never met who are following the meeting have reached out to me with additional information or to talk further. This is part of the reason we all attend conferences and twitter can help us find others with similar interests and business needs.
One of the most interesting uses of twitter is in the back channel discussions and commentary that can take place during a meeting. Much of the twittering during a meeting is parroting or paraphrasing what the speaker is saying. This can be useful, particularly in retrospect or for those who aren’t present and for you as I just noted. However, the simultaneous chatting that can occur on twitter, I think is more valuable. It gives people an opportunity to think more critically about what is said, link to other resources and enrich the conversation. Certainly, this takes some skill at multi-tasking and perhaps detracts from the attention due the speaker. However, my feeling is that lecturing to people is a decidedly one-way form of communication and while challenging in an in-person forum, virtual dialog, if respectful, can enhance the experience of the lecture format.
One can’t be everywhere all the time. Often at a busy conference, there are multiple session of interest that overlap and choosing one session over another can be a challenge. At a meeting where many people are twittering, you can get a sense of what was being said, what people thought about what was said, as well as have and follow the links to more information.
One of the benefits to twitter is that it’s short, sweet, and quick. A long blog post can take a long time to write and (hopefully) be well written. A tweet, with its tight size limit forces you to be judicious in what you say.
I’m a fairly active twitter-er, but by no means one of the chattiest on the network. Among the most active people I follow, Dave Winer has posted more than 13K tweets, and Robert Scoble has posted more than 19K tweets. How do these people find the time to do anything else, I wonder? But you can expect that I, and several others in the community, will be tweeting away a fast as our laptops, iPhones or Blackberries (or just possibly the network speed at the conference center) can keep up.
Follow the UKSG 2009 conference on twitter by using the search button at the bottom of the twitter page using the hashtag #UKSG09. Not surprisingly, theres's already a lot of tweeting going on there.