31 January 2011
By Tristram Hooley
At #dr11 we’ll be using Twitter in the kind of way that it has started to be used at some academic conferences. It may seem strange that a technology that’s main purpose is to keep people in touch when they are not together can actually be used by a group of people in the same room. However, this trend has grown up recently and it is worth thinking about why and how it is used.
Essentially Twitter offers a way for a group of people to discuss, share information and collaborate. By using a hashtag (such as #dr11) it is possible to quickly draw together all of the posts that are being made on a particular topic or in relation to a particular conference. In order to make this work one of the first things that conference participants have to do is agree on what the hashtag should be. Sometimes this is decided organically through discussion but increasingly conference organisers are specifying hashtags (as we’ve done at #dr11).
Once you are at the conference you need to keep on Tweeting. This can sometimes be disconcerting for people who aren’t used to it. For speakers it can appear that everyone is looking at their mobile phones or working on their laptops. However I’ve found that it is perfectly possibly to listen to a presentation and to tweet at the same time.
The big question is why would you do this? Here are some reasons, but there are probably more:
1. Allows for more discussion. Conference presentations have a habit of over-running which tends to squeeze discussion out in favour of a series of lectures, presentations or papers. However, participants who are tweeting can argue, discuss, debate and seek clarification whilst the presentation is going on.
2. Creates a record. Some people use Twitter as a place to dump notes, links etc that are presented during a conference. After the conference you can go back to them and draw out stuff that you wanted to follow up.
3. Amplifies the event. The use of Twitter “amplifies” an event and allows people who haven’t actually managed to attend to draw some value from it and see the kinds of things that are being talked about.