Thursday, 28 March 2013

My Twitter pitch, TweetDeck & lists

I love Twitter. I really do. And if you'd told me a year ago that I'd be saying that, I'd call you crazy. Before my introduction to Twitter for academics in October of 2012, Twitter seemed like an annoying way for companies to get your attention, a gimmick on TV shows (ahem, TheVoice), and a way to immortalize people making stupid, racist, or otherwise offensive comments.

Now, however, I find myself giving my Twitter pitch (it's good for academics, really!) to anyone who will listen. So here's a quick review of how I use twitter, along with a description of the tools and tricks I've discovered to help my Twitter experience.

First, some reference material: I found this Wiki on Social Networking for Scientists last week (how did I find it, you ask? From Twitter), and it serves as a great introduction to what Twitter is all about and why you should care. So if you're a Twitter newbie, check out some of the articles there.  I also created my own Twitter Q&A with a friend of mine who works in social media. Those you can read here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

How do I use Twitter?  I use it mostly as an information gathering system, almost like an RSS (which is why I wasn't too upset about hearing that Google Reader is dying).

A few days ago, Naomi Barnes sent out this Tweet and then Storified the results, here.

As I said in my reply, my Twitter approach is semi-random. I've actively sought out potentially useful sources of information and the nature of Twitter lets the information accumulate. I check it at least once per day (it's in my morning routine) and I'll check it periodically during the day while I'm waiting for a brief analysis to run, or passing a bit of time before a scheduled meeting.

My morning check is from my tablet, where I just skim every tweet and focus on articles, writing and productivity tips, etc. Not surprisingly, a lot of this material is from the Australian and European researchers I follow, since I'm usually checking sometime between 5-8 am my time. My subsequent checks are from my computer, and these tweets tend to be from North American researchers and journals. On my computer, I use TweetDeck to manage the multiple themes within my own personal TwitterSphere (TwitterVerse?). Using TweetDeck, I focus my attention on journal articles and potential discussion topics that I might learn something from or could potentially contribute to.

I learned about TweetDeck (again, yes, via Twitter) back in December but was mildly overwhelmed at the screenshots I saw, so procrastinated on installing it until a couple of weeks ago. I'm sorry I procrastinated, because it was ridiculously easy and I really appreciate having some order to my Twitter chaos.

Here's the deal: I use the Chrome extension, which shows up on the "apps" tab when I open a new tab/window. I set up multiple (currently 10) columns based on various themes. And now I get to show off my own intimidating screenshots:

TweetDeck allows you to pick different categories of Tweets for each of your columns, ranging from your Timeline (my #1) to mentions, searches, lists, and more. I use mostly list (#2-4, 6) and search-based (# 5, 7-9) columns. Originally I wanted to create columns based on groups of hashtags, like "#OpenAccess" "#OpenScience", but that doesn't seem possible, so lists and single-hashtag searches are the workaround I use.

Lists collect tweets from multiple people in a single stream.The Twitter help article is helpful if you want to know more. You can create lists via Twitter itself (online) or TweetDeck, but it's easier through TweetDeck. Essentially you pick a name for your list and start adding people to it. TweetDeck will provide some suggestions based on the name you give your list. I also snooped around some other people I thought might have lists on topics I like, and grabbed names from their lists. E.g. Karthik Ram (@_inundata) was a great resource for this. You can see my lists here, and subscribe to them (or just grab people to add to your own lists) if they appeal to you.

Hashtag searches make up my other columns: #PhDForum, #prodchat, #ecrchat, and #phdchat.  Again, I wish that I could create columns from multiple searches because I'd like to have a column of  @PhDForum's tweets and those tagged with #PhDForum, but TweetDeck doesn't seem capable of doing so. PhD students tend to use PhDForum (either the @ or the #) to share tweets about their experience, or ask questions for crowd-sourcing. @PhDForum will often re-tweet questions to their followers. There's a bit of ambiguity for me on whether one should be tagging with #phdforum or @PhDForum, but maybe it's up to personal preference.

Which brings me to another area I'm still a bit hazy on. This "chat" business. I know that PhDChat and ECRChat (Early Career Researcher?) organize weekly Twitter gatherings using the corresponding hashtag. ProdChat (Productivity) seems to do the same. What I'm not fully clear on is whether people use the tags during the "off-times" as well. I think people do use #phdchat and #ecrchat for just generally relevant tweets, but the #prodchat people seem to go quiet. EDIT: I just found a note for myself to read this article, which explains the #phdchat hashtag, which is used for both the meetings and the community.

I've been exposed to a ridiculous amount of interesting, thought-provoking, and useful articles about science in general, the politics and importance of open science, networking and conference-going techniques, tips for productivity and efficiency, problem-solving in R, writing strategies, and so much more. Not to be too cheesy, but I feel that I've grown as a person and a researcher because of articles I've discovered via Twitter, including the time I significantly revised my stance on open science and code-sharing (to be described in a subsequent post) and the article I read just this morning about the relationship between productivity and one's mindset about helping others.  Lastly, being exposed to so much material on a daily basis means that I'm constantly finding something that would be interesting for someone else, so I've taken to disseminating this information via G+, direct email, mailing lists, and of course reTweets, depending on the audience.

It took a few months before I felt comfortable contributing my own original Tweets, but I've started answering questions on PhDForum and the like. My next step will be contributing to the chats.

So that's my story. What's yours? How do you use Twitter?

1 comment:

  1. I didn't understand the use of hashtags when I first joined Twitter too, and the ones I saw were so mundane that it turned me off of the site. But like you, I found great use for them when it came to gathering news and updates about current events. I even noticed that hashtags help news spread quicker than some news websites. It's just a matter of finding and using tags that are relevant to your interests.

    -Sage Aumick