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Academics Twittering on?

Claire S Ross27 January 2010

Twitter is everywhere. It is one of the key web 2.0 applications that grown hugely in the last year and is now being is being used by everyone and anyone. But does it have any use in academia? Or is it just narcissistic twaddle?

Last year I attended the excellent Museums and the Web conference in Indianapolis, not only was the selection of sessions and speakers great, but it was their attempts to amplify the conference that really interested and engaged people. The basic idea behind an amplified conference is making use if tools like wikis, blogs, photo sharing etc to build a community around an conference prior, during and post the event. I went to the conference on my own, I didn’t really know many people and was intimidated by the masses of incredibly clever people that were surrounding me, and then I entered the backchannel… I was able to view other peoples comments, discussions and ideas on the blogs and follow in real time what was going on via Twitter, I was absorbed and I felt that my opinion was valid and relevant. It was great.

Recently however there has been a lot of bad press of Twitter use, as being disruptive and distracting and can even turn quite nasty, so perhaps my experience was not the norm, the exception to the rule. Perhaps Twitter is just a tool for individuals to reveal far to much about themselves, for naval gazing, plain rudeness and self indulgence? So we did some investigating…

Few studies have been undertaken to make explicit how technologies, like Twitter, are used by scholars and whether they have any benefit to the academic community. So we started a little research paper looking specifically at the use of Twitter as a digital backchannel by the Digital Humanities community, taking as its focus postings to Twitter during three different international 2009 conferences, That Camp 09, DH09, and DRHA09.

We ask the following questions:

  • Does the use of a Twitter enabled backchannel enhance the conference experience, collaboration and the co-construction of knowledge, or is it a disruptive, disparaging and a inconsequential tool full of ‘pointless babble’?
  • How is microblogging used within an academic conference setting, and can we articulate the benefits it may bring to a discipline?

You can find a copy of the paper here

And the Twitter archive for the conferences are below:




the early DH09 Tweets which were missed by Twapper Keeper can be found in this handy excel sheet

The paper has been submitted for consideration to a journal, and we have their permission to put up this draft copy to elicit some discussion about its contents from the community it features. Do you agree with our findings? Is there anything else you would like to see covered? Does your personal experience of using twitter in a scholarly context differ from what we have discovered?