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Technophobia and other responses to technology

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You may have heard of Michael Wesch, professor of anthropology and digital ethnographer, known for his outstanding videos about the impact of information and communications technology on global society (particularly university learning). After listening to his keynote at the 2009 Association of Technologist Conference, I went to Wikipedia to find out more, and there I learned that in 2008 he had won something called The John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis in the Field of Media Ecology from the Media Ecology Association. So, because Michael Wesch’s videos are important and he has been called ‘the explainer’, I went to see who had won the award before and since.

I came across the best-articulated piece of technophobia I’ve encountered in a long while (and I don’t use technophobia in a rhetorical pejorative sense but a straight descriptive one). It references Postman, Debord, Ellul and Mumford (you can see most of their pictures along the top of the Media Ecology Association site), and I understand technophobia a lot better now. Here it is.

Michael Wesch is more interested in rethinking things.

Two such different winning presentations for an award overseen by an organisation which included Marshall McLuhan. Is the medium the message?


Written by Mira Vogel

October 18, 2009 at 22:23

Twitter and the ayatollahs

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All eyes on Andrew Sullivan, un-pigeon-hole-able author and activist, reporting the Iranian and election and its aftermath via his Twitter account, DailyDish.

He’s collected his tweets (up till June 16) at his spot on The Atlantic website, including from early:

“Mssg from Twitter: Our…partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.”

Use of the #nomaintenance tag persuaded Twitter not to shut down for maintenance yesterday. They are running Twitter for the Iranian democrats.

The scales have fallen from Sullivan’s eyes:

“I have to say my skepticism about this new medium has now disappeared. Without it, one wonders if all this could have happened. A reader notes a few facts:

Ahmadinejad’s and Khamenei’s websites were taken down yesterday – I saw the latter go down within a couple of minutes because of a DDOS attack organised via Twitter. @StopAhmadi is a good source for tweets on this. The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today’s rally have gotten out.

Technology has not just made the world more dangerous; it has also enabled freedom to keep one small step in front of tyranny and lies.”

Will the ayatollahs now close Twitter in Iran?

Note to self:

“Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people. While it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.”

How to support Iranian twitterers.

Update: scholars of the Iranian and Arabic blogospheres write in the Washington Post – Reading Twitter in Tehran? Why the real revolution is on the streets – and offline.

“Paradoxically, the “freedom to scream” online may actually assist authoritarian regimes by serving as a political release valve of sorts. If dissent is channeled into cyberspace, it can keep protesters off the streets and help state security forces track political activism and new online voices. As Egyptian democracy activist Saad Ibrahim said last week during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, this appears to be part of a long tradition for governments in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where dissent is channeled into universities and allowed to thrive there, as long as it does not escape the university walls.

With so many individuals overcoming government efforts to block online communication, particularly via Twitter, it is notable that the Iranian government has not shut down Internet access completely. Similarly, as we discovered in our recent study of the Arabic blogosphere, the Egyptian government tolerates extensive blogging by the Muslim Brotherhood while outlawing its other activities. The Chinese often ease the harshest of their Internet regulations over time. And the military junta in Burma didn’t keep the Net down for long. Ultimately, almost all such regimes choose to leave the Internet more open than closed, then move to regulate specific activities that they deem worrisome.

After all, it appears that people living under authoritarian regimes such as the one in Iran are as addicted to the Internet as the rest of us are. Even though states push back, they can’t keep the Internet down for long without serious blowback from their citizens. Iranian officials have the power to shutter the Internet just as they once clamped down on reformist newspapers, but they may be more concerned now about any move that pushes those watching — or blogging or tweeting — from the sidelines into the throngs of protesters already in the streets”

See also this from the Berkman Institute of Internet and Society on shutting the blogosphere.

And Patrick Meier, also at Harvard, who understands this stuff and is updating his piece on how to communicate securely in repressive environments.

I hope colleagues understand now that ‘techies’ are not to be maligned – well, not simply for being techies, anyway.

Reading Twitter in Tehran?

Why the real revolution is on the streets — and offline.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 16, 2009 at 09:58

Media Law & Ethics learn.gold VLE area critical factor in winning Teaching Excellence Award

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bjtc_logoTim Crook, convenor of the popular Media Law and Ethics course in the Media and Communications Department and former CELT fellowship holder, emailed to let us know that his course area on the learn.gold virtual learning environment was the swinging factor that persuaded the UK Broadcast Journalism Training Council to give Goldsmiths the Excellence in Teaching Broadcast Journalism Award for 2007-2008.

At the awards ceremony it was stated ‘The intranet site provides anything and everything, and much more to any student studying or needing to find out about Media Law & Ethics. It is outstanding.’

Here’s a short mp3 format interview with Tim (right-click, or apple-click for Macs, that link to save to e.g. a portable player). The first part of the recording is an excellent introduction to the course itself; how it is taught and the kinds of learners it attracts. At 7 min 49 sec Tim discusses the aspects of the course and the VLE area which were valued by his learners and by the BJTC. Of particular interest is the role of this enormous repository of resources in a course whose focus is media ethics and law as a dynamic collection of texts. At 10 min 53 he talks about his use of the log files to gauge use and perceived relevance of the different resources he has made available. At 11 min 42 he observes that theory students, whose assessment is based on coursework, are beginning to opt for a fearsome-sounding 3-hour unseen paper. From 13 min 21 sec he talks about the award ceremony.

Written by Mira Vogel

May 5, 2009 at 11:33

What educators, educationalists and pundits have said about Twitter

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(This is getting updated quite regularly.)

What was that performance art on the South Bank? What do people think about last night’s presentation? TV programme? Your research publication? Exhibition? What is happening with the G20 protests? The aftermath of the contested Iranian election? Twitter has become something unexpectedly important: a  way of communicating what you are doing or thinking and, by extension, a search engine for finding out, and filtering, what’s people are saying now, or at a previous time.

Below are excerpts from Twitter users, with links.


“Jeff Tietz demonstrates why this unlikely form of communication, which I once derided, acquired a kind of poetic narrative through time. He takes persiankiwi and lays it out in one day. That’s what we’ve tried to do with our collective, constantly up-dated tweet-file. It reads like a stream of constantly shifting consciousness. It is a kind of journalistic pointillism. And from a distance, it gains heft. It is history rendered in the collective, scattered mind, and it has never happened before – millions upon millions of tiny telegram messages sent to the entire world.”

Andrew Sullivan, June 09


“Generally speaking, those of us working in education have the most use for Twitter as a way of building a network (sometimes referred to as a personal learning network or PLN).

A PLN, simply defined, is a community which shares interests and information. In her recent PLN survey, Sue Waters found a ‘microblogging tool e.g. Twitter’ was cited by her respondents as their most useful PLN tool. A PLN acts as a filter, selecting what they regard as useful and interesting information. Of course at times there can be too much information – as with feed readers and mailing lists, as the flow of information increases, there is no room for reader’s guilt. There are already enough things in life that have to be read – emails and assignments, for example. The joy of your PLN stream is that you can dip your toes in as and when.”

Leo Havemann, Birkbeck, University of London, June 09


“Returning to my use of the word literacy to describe both a set of skills for encoding and decoding as well as the community to which those skills provide entrance, I see that the use of Twitter to build personal learning networks, communities of practice, tuned information radars involves more than one literacy. The business about tuning and feeding, trust and reciprocity, and social capital is a form of network literacy that we discuss in my classes. Knowing that Twitter is a flow, not a queue like your email inbox, to be sampled judiciously is only one part of the attention literacy I started to blog about – knowing that it takes ten to twenty minutes to regain full focus when returning to a task that requires concentrated attention, learning to recognize what to pluck from the flow right now because it is valuable enough to pay attention to now, what to open in a new tab for later today, what to bookmark and get out of my way, and what to pass over with no more than a glance, are all other aspects of attention literacy that effective use of Twitter requires. My students who learn about the presentation of self and construction of identity in the psychology and sociology literature see the theories they are reading come to life on the Twitter stage every day – an essential foundation for participatory media literacy.”

Howard Rheingold, May 09


“Twitter is quickly becoming a global faculty lounge. Sure, it’s easy to waste a lot of time on the Internet-based microblogging service reading mundane details about people’s days. But you can also pick up some great higher-education gossip, track down colleagues to collaborate with, or get advice on how to improve your teaching or research.

It is difficult to grasp what Twitter does without trying it firsthand. The service lets you share short quips (or links to information on other Web sites) with people who sign up as your followers, and lets you see updates from people whom you follow. The free service can be found on the Web at http://twitter.com, but it is also possible to use Twitter via cellphone. Once you find a few interesting people to follow, you can order up Twitter anytime and dip into a rich soup of thought.”

Chronicle of Higher Education (April 09)


“A good way to start making Twitter more than just a placeholder for what you’re doing at a given moment is to shift focus away from self and realize, it’s not all about me. It’s about them. The translation of that idea into action is to add as many people as possible that you think would be interesting. I started by adding all the rhet/comp people I could find, and quite a few comm studies people too since we overlap so well. I’ve learned a lot about the rhythms of highly successful academics this way–how they track projects, how they guard their personal time, making time for exercise–all useful, mentoring things to know, but quite different and more convincing when shared in 140- characters interspersed throughout the day over an extended time.  I don’t think I really got how Twitter could work until I followed more than fifty people. I follow a bit more than 140 now, and it works fine–no overload. I don’t think 1000+ would work for me, but I do think that in order to get the most from Twitter, you need to follow more than the people you see every day in person.

Finally, instead of thinking of Twitter as a status indicator, think of it as a place, a hallway perhaps. There are a lot of doors with some pretty smart people behind some of them as well as a few jerks here and there. Every once in a while when you’re doing your research or just finished teaching or saw Watchmen and feel a duty to prevent others from making the same mistake, you pop out of your office and say something brief about it. Not too much–after all, we all do things and don’t have a lot of time, but under 140 characters is enough to cover the eureka moment. It’s enough to share the new thing you tried while teaching that turned out to be awesome. It’s enough.”

Lanette on Techsophist (April 09)


In his talk, Pat Kane also highlighted some obvious uses of Twitter for trraditional journalism.

  • Beat reporting, including geo-location where the tweets can be mapped.
  • Early earning, communities deciding what is news
  • Real-time content, photos, videos and one line description
  • Traceable sources, interviews and leads. He described it as @punter.
  • “Can you help?” Do you have anymore information on this matter?
  • It can be a promottional tool for titles, individuals and journalists or pieces that they do.
  • It can be an expertise archive. “It’s a folksonomy of knowledge on the move.” This used to be called desk research. This enriches and adds to the toolbox of the traditional journalist.
  • However, there are some tough questions that have to be asked.

    • Who verifies these sources of information? Is it the traditional media or the ‘truth community’? He talked about the ‘balkanisation of truth’. Who sorts through the chaos? Who has the authority?
  • Can we break out of 140 characters as a design limitation for real-time media? There is value in both the real-time output plus the traditional longer form output.
  • How distributed and collaborative are journalists prepared to be about their work process? He talked about a memo from the Wall Street Journal to its journalists not to have discussions about sources or leads in the open on Twitter or social networks, because The Journal could lose exclusive stories. Pat Kane was much more interested in Jeff Jarvis’ view that it misses the point that journalists can improve their work through collaboration.
  • Pat is keen to get away from “churnalism” which he said was 50% of the journalism he saw in the 1990s. Will the ‘Darwinian acid’ that new media is throwing on traditional media add more authenticity? Will fewer journalists be better journalists?

    The Guardian, May 09


    “I must admit that when I first heard about Twitter I thought it represented the apex of what concerns me about internet technology: solipsism and sound-bite communication. While I obviously spend a great deal of time online and thinking about the potential of these new networked digital communication structures, I also worry about the way that they too easily lead to increasingly short space and time for conversation, cutting off nuance and conversation, and what is often worse how these conversations often reduce to self-centered statements … Then I read an article by Clive Thompson at Wired. Clive’s article convinced me that perhaps it was worth giving Twitter a try. At this point I have to say, I am so glad that I did. Although I am still beginning to wrap my head around all of its varied uses—I think for the most part Twitter users themselves are still figuring this out—I have been using it for over six months now and come up with some academic uses.”

    AcademHack, Jan 2008


    “There are two fears on Twitter: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right person; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many people. I tend to lean towards the former.

    The thing is, Twitter is not a permanent publication; it is a conversation, or a series of conversations. You dip in and out of it. I am not ‘listening to 1000 voices’ – I am listening to the few who happen to be tweeting at that particular time.

    The more people you follow, the more chance you have of stumbling across something interesting.

    The more diverse people you follow, the more chance of stumbling across something useful from outside of your immediate circles – and those for me are the most interesting things of all.

    Stop worrying about what you’re missing, and focus on what you do see. As for the quality…”

    Paul Bradshaw, Jan 2009.


    Twitter might not be formally launching its own TV programme, contrary to web gossip, but it is increasingly being explored as a tool for building conversation around shows – as witnessed last night by Channel 4’s Surgery Live.

    Surgery Live covers four operations, including brain surgery and heart surgery, and is fielding questions from the public through Twitter, with the best answered on air. At one point yesterday, #slive was the third most popular hashtag. Three more shows run tonight, Wednesday and Thursday, each presented by Twitter user Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

    Channel 4’s new media commissioner for factual Adam Gee said there has been some experimentation by the Bad Movie Club, for example, and Channel 4 News has also fielded viewers’ questions from Twitter, but thinks this was the first time interaction through Twitter has guided the editorial of a TV show so strongly. Surgery Live is backed up by a Facebook group. The TV show and website were produced by Windfall Productions in association with the Wellcome Trust.

    The Guardian, June 09


    “… by using Twitter as a simple notification system I can drive as many users to my new blog posts as I used to get by wrangling links from other bloggers and aggregators. This is because the people who follow me have selected for what I ‘cast about, as you can see here.

    The act of building an editorial presence in Twitter by filtering, processing and structuring the flow of information that moves through the medium using one’s follow list, journalistic sensibilities and individual right to publish updates.

    • Account title to the discretion of the owner
    • Follow list used as an editorial filter
    • Three content layers: established, daily and one-off themes that interact dialectically
    • Posts, done 15-20 times per day at different intervals
    • Professionally written tone
    • Direct interaction with audience/readership
    • Liberal, sensible use of hyperlinks
    • Fully articulated thoughts
    • No retweets (instead use the via @GrammarGirl convention for crediting the source, then reword the post to sharpen, comment or otherwise add personal value. — JR)

    Jay Rosen, May 09


    “Author Tim Collins, whose book The Little Book of Twitter is published this week by Michael O’Mara, said the site opens up new possibilities for art and education. He said: “It’s very easy to knock Twitter as something you use to tell the world what you ordered in Starbucks this morning, but it’s more than that.

    “What it is really good for is live-blogging events as they take place, and that can work for historical events too. Over Easter a church in the US re-created the death and Resurrection of Christ through tweets”.

    He said that the “hashtag” feature of the site, which allows users to engage all their friends in a mass brainstorm, was particularly useful for creative collaboration. “Maybe we are only just beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter as an art form,” he said.”

    Matthew Moore, May 09.


    “Conference organisers are beginning to use micro-blogs as a tool for direct, real time feedback during keynotes. There is a danger that the stream of updates becomes the ‘star attraction’, but it can form a way for the audience to engage with the topic, to ask for clarification, to expand on the point or to supplement it with relevant internet links.

    Ira Socol refers to this as the ‘back channel’ and argues that it is better to have it explicitly recognised rather than secreted behind seats as students whisper or text each other or, worse, drift off into unrelated online activities. While recognising that such feedback could be threatening to the teacher, he also considers the opportunities afforded to the more hesitant student, to the one who has trouble speaking good English, or to the reflective type who wants to consider an answer before contributing. The tool he used was Today’s Meet.”

    Becta, 2009


    “Many educators are now stressing the importance of their personal learning networks (PLNs) – contact webs drawn from a range of offline gatherings and social tools – who act as peer mentors and information repositories related to that professional’s work. Faced by a pedagogical, research or technical issue, a quick ‘shout’ brings back a set of immediate answers or starting points.

    Micro-blogging can be used to create ‘crowd-sourced’ wisdom. While the crowd may not always be correct, it can often contribute to a process of knowledge co-construction, which may be formalised using other tools such as wikis.”

    Becta, 2009


    “I use Twitter Search to keep track of certain keywords relevant to my work. I use a search for ‘McSweeney’s’ to investigate what Twitter users are saying about the American magazine that I’m researching. I archive the search in an RSS reader, so I don’t have to constantly check it manually. I’m lucky in that McSweeney’s has a fairly unique title, so there isn’t much work to be done in filtering out irrelevant results. At first I was just keeping track of it for curiousity’s sake, but I’ve noticed a few trends developing that are going to be useful for my thesis, such as negative response and the transmission of their work through word-of-mouth. I was using Twitter for a long time before I decided to try it out as a research tool, and now it’s proved productive. I haven’t used it yet to contact Twitter users about McSweeney’s, and I probably won’t. This aspect of the service is useful to me as a way of investigating “natural” response from readers without the danger of replies being biased by a respondant’s awareness of the questioning process.”

    Kevin O’Neill, researcher in Goldsmiths English and Comparative Literature department, Mar 09.


    “We cyberjunkies need a new thrill, and what better than a service that combines social networking, blogging and texting? Dozens of other companies are trying to do the same thing with services like VelvetPuffin and Google’s Dodgeball. But only Twitter has figured out how to make it easy.

    I know, it’s totally silly and shallow, but that’s precisely why Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app. And if you don’t like it, well, in the words of one Twit from San Francisco, “I’m so sick to death of Twitter-haters. If you don’t like it, why waste your time writing, reading, or talking about it? Sheesh.””

    Anita Hamilton, 2007.


    “The ‘noise’ argument holds little water.

    Whenever I discuss my reasoning for following everyone who follows me on Twitter, I invariably receive the same response from those who disagree: “following everyone is too much trouble and you can’t find all the conversations you actually want to engage in.”


    I currently follow over 2,400 people on Twitter and I’ve never had an issue finding really interesting and relevant information. Sure, some of it has nothing to do with me–discussions about grilled cheese sandwiches, for one–but there’s quite a bit that my followers discuss that I’m interested in. I’d say that more than 80 percent of all the updates that flow through my stream are worthy of discussion. And I don’t think I’m unique.

    I simply don’t see how users get more value out of Twitter by following a select group of people. I’ve tried it and it was disastrous. More often than not, that grouping is filled with co-workers and friends that probably share many of the same interests. If you ask me, that sounds more like a big, private chat room than a social network where you can communicate and interact with people from all over the world.

    Call me crazy, but Twitter, to me, is an international community where interesting tidbits of information flows constantly. It’s not a big party where my friends and I can enjoy each others’ company. That’s what bars are for.”

    Don Reisinger, 2009


    “… quasi equivalents of talking at the water cooler or wandering around to someone’s desk for a chat … social networks aren’t all playful banter and can facilitate meaningful conversation and knowledge creation.”

    Mullygrub, Nov 08


    “The more powerful argument is that we are now moving beyond blogging – from the blogosphere to the Twitterverse. In other words, short-form social networking is proving a more useful way of communicating than the more long-winded and less intimate form of the blog. It follows on from the recent “Google is making us stupid” argument, that our attention span is now so short that we can’t read more than the 140 characters in a Tweet or the one line status update you see on Facebook.

    I do think that there is evidence that early adopters from the tech crowd have moved on, perhaps disappointed that their blogs are not reaching a mass audience – or discovering that it’s easier to have a conversation in a smaller space, where the madding crowd doesn’t keep butting in.”

    Rory Cellan Jones, Oct 08.


    “I see Twitter’s artificial limit on post size as an important factor in classroom success. First, it keeps the information space managable, meaning information is economized and easily retrievable. Second, and this is pure speculation, but I see Twitter’s short form as a communication equalizer.”

    Fred Stutzman, Feb 09


    “Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.”

    Clive Thompson, June 07


    “Anyone willing to ‘adopt’ a journalism student on Twitter and answer their questions about it?

    The response (especially on a Sunday afternoon) was heartwarming – within less than an hour I had more than one ‘Twentor’ (thanks to Scott Keegan for that word) per student – responses below. Two days later and the effect has been noticeable – the majority of students had started chatting to their mentors and you could see the lights switching on.

    Needless to say the Twentoring idea itself makes two very strong points about Twitter: firstly, how it can be used as a source of support; and secondly, how easy it is to make professional contacts.”

    Paul Bradshaw, Feb 09


    “Hashtags are great for conferences and featured heavily at ALT-C 2008. #altc2008 on twitter: 300+ tweets before, during and after the event. And of course it’s not just twitter and hashtags. The altc2008 tag was used on flickr, blog posts, delicious and no doubt elsewhere. See my conference page for examples.”

    Matt Lingard, October 08


    “Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004”

    Paul Boutin, 2008


    “Anyway, I think Twitter is blogging. When I go back and look at my blog back in 2004, for instance, it looks a whole lot like Twitter. Short item with a link. So some of that content behavior has moved elsewhere. Big whoop.

    But now that I’ve done 18,000 tweets I find I’m getting bored there and want to play around with longer blog posts again. Mostly because I find I’m having something to say.”

    Robert Scoble, Feb 09.


    “Recently I’ve found that for me, the right way to use twitter is to uninstall any client, and instead open the twitter site for a limited time when I choose to. That allows me to modulate both the time drain and the emotional / cognitive impact. It might be that such a tactic allows me to experience the joy of “twitter-induced pseudo-hypomania” without suffering the consecuences. I simply bail out before I do something stupid. Granted, I’m probably less of a party star this way. Perhaps there’s a pattern here.”

    Yish, Feb 09.


    “Was slumbering early this morning and heard news from CNN (I always go asleep with the TV on) that a plane had crashed in Amsterdam Schiphol airport. I grabed my laptop and went direct to twitter, twitter search and tweettags. Sure enough the tweets were rolling in, and had been rolling in for about 15 minutes. Later it seemed twitter was reporting on this around 10 minutes before mainstream news which is pretty normal these days. First and foremost it is being reported that there are no reports of any deaths, which of course is the most important thing here. Hopefully that is still the case once the news gets sorted and laid down as fact (although even now as I’m reviewing this post that figure is growing – that’s sad !

    A few interesting things picked up

    • CNN got it wrong, initially reported many dead onboard an Airbus A380 !
    • CNN took pictures from twitter and actually quoted it’s original source
    • Twitter gets it wrong, but it would seem gets itself corrected quicker than mainstream news
    • Twitter source provided a high res picture, which now I’ve seen has gone live on the mainstream news.
    • Times like this are a perfect opportunity for hackers, crackers and the bad people out there to take advantage of people wanting to grab the news first. I always pass any tiny-urls through a preview window first and check to see where it’s taking me.

    It does look as though the main news sources have contacts following twitter as the BBC, CNN and SkyNews have all quoted from twitter this morning. The internet continues to amaze me at times like this – here is the ATC shortly after the crash.”

    Nigel Cooke, Monkeynuts, Feb 09


    The most common way to filter the gazillion messages being relentlessly posted to Twitter is to follow people. But what if I want to follow a lot of people but for a short time? And what if I don’t even know their Twitter names? Or what if I’m more interested in the kind of content being posted than the author who is posting it?

    In the case of the Drupal conference, some folks put out the word, and it spread virally, that folks wanting to Twitter conference participants should include “#Drupalcon” in their tweets. And then, using search.twitter.com or any one of the mobile phone Twitter applications like Tweetie or Twitelator, one can filter all those tweets down to the ones that include, “#DrupalCon.” By applying a hash symbol (#) to a fitting category word, the 1400 conference attendees could promote sessions, informal meet-ups, drinking expeditions, real time commenting on sessions…

    So I wondered, is anybody using “#Torah” to filter Torah related content on Twitter? Yes, one Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, who daily tweets with a hyperlink to his “Gems of Torah” where he provides a few Torah trivia questions. So this is fairly unclaimed space in Twitter world. Of course, different than an Internet domain name, which you claim and pay for, a hashtag name space is taken up by people who use it at any given time. There is no controlling authority.

    So in addition to writing my own 133 character Torah comments (140 characters including the 7 that are used up in “#Torah”), I’m campaigning to get other people to write Torah comments on Twitter and include “#Torah.” It seems like one of the simplest ways for folks, Jewish and not Jewish, to engage in real-time shared Torah associations that are tied to the weekly readings. No moderation, no control… no guarantee of anything interesting coming out of it. But I think it is worth a try.

    Rabbishai, March 2009.


    Here are some of the key lessons I learned from the WebWise experience:

    • If you don’t engage in multiple back channels, you may not see multiple use cases. Different tools are best for different types of interaction. Just because post-it notes didn’t work at WebWise doesn’t mean they don’t work in galleries… as we know from the success of many talkback boards.
    • If you ask visitors/participants to try a new tool, make sure it has as low a barrier to entry as possible. I have yet to see a museum set something up that is as simple to use as Today’sMeet.
    • If discussion is the goal, you don’t need user profiles – you just need a way to talk. If building up a personal profile/relationship with the institution is a goal, people need to uniquely identify themselves.
    • Think about the possibility for asynchronous back channels that allow visitors (and staff) to share deep content with each other over time. Consider, for example, the rich conversation on Flickr about this image from the Chicago World’s Fair. You could imagine a comparable conversation available to visitors onsite alongside exhibits or artifacts in the galleries.
    • If possible, find ways to show the real-time location of people who are engaging in the back channel. The Mattress Factory’s new SCREENtxt application uses a location-based system so that visitors can identify whether other participants are onsite at the museum or not.
    • Make allowance for emergent back channels that visitors/users “bring with them” to the experience. These tools are particularly valuable for the “portal to the world” back channel use case. Every time I see a kid take a cellphone photo in an exhibit, I know that photo will immediately travel to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, etc. How can your system capture that activity?

    From a very good post at Museum 2.0 from March 09 – Educational Uses of Back Channels at Conferences, Museums and Informal Learning Spaces – comparing the use of different back-channels – one of which was Twitter – at a conference.


    [An analsysis of mutual conversations using Top Twitter Friends]:

    Twitter exposes conversations that can show us who’s in anyone’s inner circle because conversations there are public and programatically accessible. In the following post we look at the data and find out who has the most reciprocal conversations on Twitter with 10 geek heroes – from the founders of big sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon to nonprofit geeks working to challenge injustices.

    There’s something a little uncomfortable about being able to see this information. Fact is, though, it’s part of the nature of this powerful new system of communication. We expect that data parsing like this is only the beginning.

    Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb (2009)


    “…during the panel we invited questions via Twitter, the microblogging service, that were projected at the front of the room. More good questions rolled in than we could handle, so the panelists decided to tackle a few of them via e-mail to keep the discussion going.”

    The Higher Educational Chronicle, April 09


    But recently – over the past six months – I’ve noticed a new trend: fewer blogs with links, and fewer with any contextual comment. (I’m defining a blog here as an individual site, whether on Blogger or WordPress or an individual domain, with regular entries.) Some weeks, apart from the splogs, there would be hardly anything. I didn’t think we’d suddenly become dull. Nor was it for want of searching: mining for blog comments, I use Icerocket.com. Technorati.com and Google’s Blogsearch.

    Where is everybody? Anecdotally and experimentally, they’ve all gone to Facebook, and especially Twitter. At least with Twitter, one can search for comments via backtweets.com – though it’s still quite rare for people to make a comment on a piece in a tweet; more usually it’s a “retweet”, echoing the headline. The New York Times also noticed this trend, with a piece on 9 June about “Blogs Falling In An Empty Forest“, which pointed to Technorati’s 2008 survey of the state of the blogosphere, which found that only 7.4m out of the 133m blogs it tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. As the New York Times put it, “that translates to 95% of blogs being essentially abandoned.

    I see it: NetNewsWire, my RSS feed reader, has nearly 500 feeds. When one of them hasn’t been updated for 60 days, it turns brown, like a plant dying for lack of water. More and more of the feeds I follow are turning brown. Why? Because blogging isn’t easy. More precisely, other things are easier – and it’s to easier things that people are turning. Facebook’s success is built on the ease of doing everything in one place. (Search tools can’t index it to see who’s talking about what, which may be a benefit or a failing.) Twitter offers instant content and reaction. Writing a blog post is a lot harder than posting a status update, putting a funny link on someone’s Wall, or tweeting. People are still reading blogs, and other content. But for the creation of amateur content, their heyday for the wider population has, I think, already passed. The short head of blogging thrives. Its long tail, though, has lapsed into desuetude.”

    Charles Arthur, Technology Editor, The Guardian, June 09


    Written by Mira Vogel

    February 26, 2009 at 18:39