The Twitter challenge

I recently came across Twitter and gave it a try. I ended up with mixed feelings and therefore would like to give you some of my thoughts on this universe of fast and endless messages. Twitter is often defined as micro-blogging[1] or continuous chatting. Each “micro-blog post” or message is limited to 140 characters. Sending and receiving messages is for free. The Twitter social network results from your subscription to messages of other users and their subscriptions to your’s. Contrary to Facebook this can be highly asymmetric[2], as messages of some users are subscribed by hundred thousands whereas they subscribe to only a handful other people. Despite this subscription thing, your messages can be red by anyone worldwide and will be found by Google too.

To fully perceive what Twitter is all about, as with every new Web 2.0 stuff you have to experience it by yourself. Dig in the twitter ocean and literally “twitter at the top of your voice”. Therefore I strongly recommend that you do two things to become a twitter expert yourself, in that very order: First, open up a Twitter account at, look up some people to follow (I suggest the usual suspects: davidrothman, digicmb, giustini, krafty, mlrethlefsen[3] … don’t follow too many people in the beginning). After a while lurking write your own tweets and see what happens.

To have a say in Twitter, you need to learn some Twitterspeak:

  • Tweets: Each Twitter message is called a “tweet”.
  • Following: If you subscribe to someone’s tweets it means you’re “following” him.
  • Followers: People who subscribed to your tweets (in Facebook they are called “Fans”).
  • #hashtag: Like in blogs, tweets can be tagged using keywords. Because in Twitter the tags are started with the hash sign (#), the tags are called hashtags.
  • @username: You can address messages to certain users by writing their name starting with the @-sign. This is regarded as a reply, but of course anybody can read this message.

Fortunately there are many Twitter tools which make twittering more comfortable: If you are already writing a blog you can redirect your blog posts to become Twitter messages. You can reuse your tweets in Facebook or make RSS feeds out of them. [4]

Is Twitter just a gimmick?
If you look randomly at tweets you may get the feeling, that it’s an incredible bunch of personal, irrelevant banalities. It is the same with blogs. And again, mass media experts are highly critical about Twitter as they were prejudiced about blogs. But if you dig deeper, you may find precious pearls hidden in the vast ocean of blogs and the same holds true for Twitter. There is one difference: The blogger who posts rarely, if ever, private things will be more intimate on Twitter. The medium changes the message.

Twitter can be successfully used for…
Did you know that Twitter is the third biggest social network site on earth after Facebook and MySpace? How can libraries use this great portal successfully?

  • Keep you up-to-date. Twitter is much more current than any other media and does a better job of getting news out, but remember that the needle maybe somewhat smaller (140) and the haystack has the size of the earth. Twitter makes it easy to recognize trends and ask questions: “What are people talking about right now?” You simply don’t get this material using the dinosaur search engines like Google.[5]
  • Keep and get you in connection. When you follow a twitter guy, he will notice it and maybe as a result he follows you. So you get in contact with people, which allows you to quickly identify experts. Mashups like twitnest[6] and Mailana[7] will show you relationship networks between users and who is where interested on what (Fig.1: Mailana graph of people discussing the term “medlib”).
  • Spread the word. The Research Medical Library at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center[8], twitter name: MDAndersonLib, posts regularly news about the library and has over 100 followers. lindyjb publishes an impressive list of hundreds “Libraries on Twitter”.[9]
  • Live-twitter conferences (@mla2009), surgical procedures (#twor), or make real-time satisfaction surveys with immediate follow-up for problem resolution.[10]
  • For more ideas take a look at Phil Bradley’s weblog: Using Twitter in libraries5, Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide[11], and iLibrarian: A Guide to Twitter in Libraries.[12]

Should I use Twitter?
Please notice, that the cost of being a technology evangelist can easily outstrip the received value.[13] Using Twitter can easily be addictive and eat up your day. Nevertheless I believe that as information professionals at least we have to know something about these new tools of communication. And now I would like to unveil the second thing you have to do to become an Twitter expert: watch the Current News video “Twouble with Twitter” from Super_Josh.[14] I hope it shakes your brain like it shook mine. Afterwards you will understand Twitter a lot better for sure.

[1] For a list of micro-blogging services go to Wikipedia:
[3] Or follow the “GroupTweet for Medical Libraryfolk”, twitter name: medlibs. BTW: My favourite blogger, T Scott Plutchak, doesn’t twitter apparently, which makes him even more pleasant 😉
[8] and
[13] Dean Giustini: “Technology Evangelist? Well Yes & No” []
Bryan P. Bergeron: “The costs of being first: Can you afford to be a technology pioneer?” Postgraduate Medicine 105(3) 1999 []

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