Saturday, August 16, 2008

What's the Point of Twitter?

Okay, I get it. In order to interact with our "born digital" students, we librarians have to engage in social networking. Because I believe this is true, I have set up a Facebook profile for myself, much to my daughter's horror. I think she had nightmares about me "friending" all of her friends and finding out what really goes at college. As if I didn't already know, having been a college student once myself. One of these days, I will also get around to creating a profile on LinkedIn, but it's low on my list of priorities. I plan to set up a Facebook account for the Pace Law Library because I think that might prove to be useful as a way of communicating with students; I notice that a number of other law libraries have already done this and wonder what their experience has been. However, I have to wonder what is the point of Twitter. The answer comes in a trenchant column from today's Boston Globe. The author concludes that Twitter is essentially a way to "send ... pointless little messages, gobbling up Internet bandwidth for no reason." I couldn't agree more. One of our staff members put the law library on Twitter, but frankly I don't see the point.


Anne M. said...

I just got my Twitter account a week or so ago and have already had more frequent contact with our librarians up on another floor than I did when relying on other communication. I can only imagine how that contact will work as an outreach tool to students.

James Milles said...

Shorter Alex Beam: "You darn kids with your Twitter, get off my lawn!"

Beam's Boston Globe column is typical lazy mainstream media "reporting" on new social media. It took me several months to understand Twitter, but now it's a constant part of my work day. Part of it is classic network effects: once enough people you know and communicate with regularly are there, it becomes a wonderfully productive way to ask questions, float ideas, and simply share observations.

One of the many things Beam misses is that, like many Web 2.0 tools, Twitter has taken on a life of its own beyond the intentions of its creators. Yes, Twitter (still) prompts you with the question "what are you doing?", but Twitter users have adapted it into an ongoing, worldwide conversation on thousands of topics simultaneously; the user simply chooses which conversations to participate in.

One longtime law librarian friend and colleague wrote me a few weeks ago, "I have to say I'm loving using twitter to connect with you and other folks I don't usually stay up with. It's a Good Thing :)" The 140 character limit forces you to write concisely and to choose your words for maximum effect. After all, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

I'm on twitter at jmilles. I hope I'll see you there.

Tom Boone said...

It took months for me to really discover the value of Twitter, but now I'm in daily contact with a wide variety of librarians and other professionals across the country.

A few weeks ago a librarian in Chicago Twittered that she was interested in an AALL session on empirical research. I replied to her -- via Twitter -- that I was also interested in this topic because I was working with such materials at work. Two days later, a librarian in LA who isn't even on Twitter asked me about my empirical research after she had a phone conversation the Chicago librarian. Minus Twitter, I wouldn't have made either of these valuable professional connections.

As for Alex Beam, I have little doubt that my posts are "pointless little messages" to him. Just as I would likely find his to be pointless, too. That's because we aren't discussing ideas that matter to one another. We can have our own separate network of follows and followers and never have to see what the other is posting. But if our interests ever do cross, it will be far easier for us to find one another. All because of our pointless little messages.

In honor of Beam's column, I created a blog badge to show my Twitter pride.

I'm tomboone on Twitter.

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

Twitter strikes me as a potential big-brother tool. Think--those of us who like to work on one thing, who need privacy to think through an idea, who refuse to answer the phone while writing (even taking it off the hook and burying it in the laundry basket) will be linked to every flittering thought and idea. The boss will expect you to be available to answer twitter messages. It would be worse than e-mail.

More seriously, how does Twitter contribute to my ideal of the library, "a transformative public space that protects users from harm?" Does this device have GPS capabilities? Can people track me? It's bad enough that so many people know my work hours and location, but would people expect me to available on Twitter when I am strolling to work? Would that become a potential labor case--on-call pay status?

Lyonette Louis-Jacques said...

I initially couldn't figure out Twitter either. I think I joined because Jim Milles Twittered. I started following him and couldn't quite figure out what to post except the "What I'm having for lunch"-type post.

But I'm figuring it out after getting some followers and following more people. The interactions possible are great. So now I tweet about all different types of law library stuff - selecting books for storage, doing reference, writing research guides, etc. And the music I'm listening to as I'm doing it...:-) I respond to other folks' tweets. They respond to mine. Sometimes it helps to commiserate and get support and ideas. It's quite interactive, and truly a social and professional network.

I wrote an article on "Twitter for Law Librarians" for my local chapter newsletter where I list some of the best folks to follow on Twitter so folks can see how to use it in law libraries.

Twitter is quite worthwhile! :-)

Unknown said...

Twitter is simply a quick way to share. I subscribe to a bunch of Twitter feeds that are news related: NYT Times, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, AP, Reuters, etc., etc. Following those feeds has turned Twitter into my own wire service. Following others is merely personal: what music I'm listening to, what people are doing. I'm not sure that there is a "point." It's simply a way to share; share what? Any old thing....

Betsy McKenzie said...

Whew! I'm glad I didn't post the Beam article, which I had considered. Thank you, Marie, for posting and all the folks who responded. I, like others, didn't see any point to Twitter. After reading the comments here, I joined and am still learning the ropes. But it looks like a useful tool -- if only for testing the floating zeitgeist of my fellow library peeps.

Lyonette Louis-Jacques said...

I posted a list of some useful folks and entities to follow on Twitter and their Twitter handles here:

(not that many law companies yet, but the ABA Journal is Twittering and just a couple of days ago, HeinOnline!).

Lyonette Louis-Jacques said...

I posted a list of some useful folks and entities to follow on Twitter and their Twitter handles here:

(not that many law companies yet, but the ABA Journal is Twittering and just a couple of days ago, HeinOnline!).

Anonymous said...

I've got three times suspended