I attended JCDL 2009 this week, and had the opportunity to do some live tweeting of several papers and panel sessions. It was an interesting experience that I thought was worth summarizing here. Overall, it was difficult to get the messages right, it was a challenge to listen and type at the same time, the 140 character constraint was an issue some of the time, and my tweeting had a couple of effects on my Twitter network. And of course there is the question of utility of this endeavor.
Reporting on what people said varied in difficulty: some talks, such as Gerhard Fischer’s keynote, were relatively easy because the text on the slides was chunked into “memes” that were relatively easy to tweet. Cathy Marshall’s talk, on the other hand, was much more difficult because it was organized around wacky, interesting, provoking images, with written text playing a subsidiary role, and much of the message being delivered orally. This made it difficult to both tweet what she had just said, and to listen to what she was saying next.
One of the challenges with tweeting like this is to represent the context of what is being said, and that includes who was doing the talking. I am not aware of any convention in this regard, so I used the speaker’s name, followed by my interpretation of what they said, followed by a one or two hash tags: I used #jcdl2009 for all my tweets about the conference, and then added a separate tag (#jcdlgoogle) for the plenary panel. These extra terms reduced the amount of space I had for the message, forcing me to reword what was said, which took time, and made me miss some of the subsequent points.
There were several effects of my tweeting on my social network. The most obvious was that I gained almost a dozen new followers, some of whom I know in person, and some whom I’ve never met. Another effect was undoubtedly on those who followed me in the past. I wonder how many will stop following given the deluge of tweets from the last few days. There ought to be a setting in clients to collapse tweets with the same hashtag that occur close to each other in time into a single entry to minimize clutter. Finally, there were other people tweeting from the conference, but I was only aware of one (@gingdottwit) because I had followed him prior to the conference.
In retrospect, I should have used something like Tweetdeck and set a pane to collect all #jcdl2009 tweets to help me be aware of what others were saying. Of course that would have created the temptation to comment on each others’ tweets, which would have made the reporting more difficult. Perhaps we should have coordinated reporting up-front, or had some automated way to discover each other. Interestingly, when @gingdottwit and I were in the same room, reporting on the same events, he said that my tweets were always arriving before his. I have no way to account for this.
I did get some comments from a few people on my tweets as I was sending them out. I would be quite interested to hear their impression of the messages, including whether it was at all useful, whether less would have been more, etc. I don’t know if most presenters are on Twitter, but it might be interesting to find out and see if they would like to continue some of the discussion started at the conference, particularly with respect to the topics raised at the panel.
Update: Added link to Cathy Marshall’s paper in the ACM DL and fixed some embarrassing typos.