Monday, 21 September 2009

Perspectives on Twittering at Alt-C 2009: A Need to Control Alt Tweet?

As a relative new twitter user (a twoob?), I figured I'd do my own experiment as to how more rewarding (or otherwise) it would be to participate in this year's Twitter commentary at Alt-C.

Twittering at Alt-C has been growing over the past few years and it was clear from the outset that twittering (aka microblogging) would be even more frenzied in 2009 - evident by the number of laptops open and displaying Twitterfall at Michale Wesch's (excellent) Keynote. Following the conference hashtag (#altc2009 among others) it is easy to spend lots of time reading lots of posts from others nearby...and herein lies the main problem - rather than being a valuable adjunct to the conference, this ends up causing distraction to a brain that is already working overtime trying to take in (or interact with) speakers and their talks. Some more thoughts in slightly more than 140 characters...

The good: To be fair there are some good tweets - some helpfully linking to other information or points mentioned in talks; and re-tweets sometimes point out important or useful tweets you may have missed too - which is sometimes useful when you ARE paying attention to the speaker (for a change).

The bad: Too much traffic...A large number of tweets seem to be talking about presence: "At Person A's talk on blogging, room full and I'm very excited" - or reiterating what the presenter is saying: "Person A has some interesting insight into blogging" - the latter perhaps useful to people not present in the room, but it is still 'traffic' that needs to be read. No wonder - contribution is hard - you want to say something but you have to be fast AND useful or insightful - tricky while overwhelmed with information.

The ugly: And then here comes the spam... #altc2009 reaching the 'Top Trend' tags is a sign of popularity - a bit of an achievement - but then the twitter spam arrives - lo and behold you are suddenly a 'winner' every other tweet. Sadly there are no advanced 'twitter' filters like there are in email. Sigh.

Additionally and ironically, this distraction issue brought insight into one of the recurrent 'debates' this year which was about to what extent we should allow technology to be present in the classroom or lecture theatre. If this is the kind of thing students are doing during lectures (twitter, MMS, Instant messaging) it is no wonder lectures are deemed 'less useful' - no one is paying attention! Is there a need to control this sort of distraction (for the students and for the lecturer) by banning devices or access to certain tools/websites (if this is even possible with today's ever-more-powerful mobile technology)? It certainly isn't clear cut - and would-be distractees need to be given some guidance at least.

I didn't quite appreciate the detrimental effect of this experiment until at the end of the first day I realised I'd learnt almost nothing in the talks I'd attended - maybe this was inexperience - who knows. For twoobs at least, microblogging and twitter-community involvement is a serious distraction in a place where you are actually supposed to be learning something. I think I'll stick with the pen and paper next time.

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