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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Not All Who "Tweet" Are Twits

Since its inception in 2006, "tweeting" has become an increasingly popular way to stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. The generic term for participating in the social networking site Twitter is "micro-blogging." In 140-character increments, 55 million daily users share the answer to the question "What are you doing?" with the rest of the Twitterverse.

Dear readers, I know you look to this column for recommendations of cutting-edge technologies and their education purposes. And I would really like to provide such an insight this month as well. I've been trying to get in the spirit of Twitter, using it on and off for about a year.

But I am slow in finding the value in this "tool."

The concept behind Twitter is quite simple. You log on and post short statements -- tweets -- about your current activities. Other Twitterers sign up to follow" your tweets, and you can sign up to follow and read the short posts of others. While the bulk of these tweets are public (anyone who is following you can read them), one can also send a private message directly to another person. That's it. You can do this on the Twitter Web site, or use a variety of applications created to more easily follow "tweets" on your computer, PDA, or cell phone. You also can add your Twitter feed to your Facebook page.

Some of my colleagues swear by the usefulness of Twitter. My sense, however, is that we are taking what is meant to be a recreation tool and attempting to shoehorn it into an educational purpose -- trying to pass off a cocktail party as an educational seminar.

Despite having used this tool for quite some time, I am left with some questions:

What is the proper content for a Tweet? I find I really don't care much if people are eating breakfast or preparing for a presentation or scratching their backsides or stranded at an airport. But then I don't expect others to care about whether I am doing those things either. Am I just insensitive? Should I care more about my fellow human beings? I did get very anxious when it sounded from entries that one person was posting and driving at the same time. I hope that was not true. Or that we are never on the road at the same time.

How much material from the "Shameless Self Promotion Department" is part of this? I read an awful lot of pointing to: "Hey, looky what I just wrote on my blog" or "Hey, looky, I am speaking at a conference" and so on.

How do you keep from being perceived as rude and uncaring? I "follow" about 50 people -- people I have actually met or for whom I have some context. I have 560 people following me. So here is the thing: If a person who is following me posts a message, I won't see it because I am not followinghim or her. My non-response might well be interpreted as me being a snot. By not following people who are following me, I might be perceived as looking like I feel superior to them. Hey, and what about those jerks who I follow, but who don't follow me, and who never respond to my messages? Just who died and left them Twit king/queen? Somehow, this seems like a medium designed to hurt feelings.

When do people actually log on to Twitter, and what kinds of day jobs do people have who can do this during working hours? I would feel very guilty tweeting during my working hours (unless I am in a boring, time-wasting meeting or marginally important training anyway). Maybe real Twits are a) all self-employed/unemployed, b) outstanding multitaskers, c) have non-traditional work hours, d) attend lots of meetings, or e) don't really care that they might not be giving their employer their all. (Did I just get in a lot of trouble?)

What is the ratio of information to time spent? Yes, I get word of a few interesting links during my Twittering time, but compared to a lot of other things I could have been doing, there as an awfully poor "signal to noise ratio" -- even compared to the rest of the Web 2.0 world. A lot of chaff for very little wheat.

Is there a lack of depth and conversational development? The limitation of 140 characters per message means missed pieces of conversations and non-linear, multiple conversations--normal interruptions that leave one far behind in this synchronous form of communication. All those characteristics do little to help me increase the depth of my understanding on any topic.

David Pogue, in a column about Twitter, wrote about some "rules" he's found about the program. This is the most interesting:

"I found one rule that answered a long-standing question I had about Twitter: Don't tweet about what you're doing right now. Which is weird, since that's precisely how the typing box at is labeled: What are you doing?"

Think how much more valuable this resource might have been had the question in front of the box been:

  • What are you reading?
  • What are you thinking about?
  • What has you stumped?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What do you know that others might find valuable?

Oh, I'd agree with Pogue's final assessment of Twitter: I'm still dubious about Twitters prospects for becoming a tool for ordinary people (rather than early-adopter techie types).

Twittter's not something I think I could ever have convinced my dad to use. Or many time-starved teachers, for that matter.

Just because I am not a big fan of micro-blogging, doesn't mean that you shouldn't try it. As I said earlier, plenty of people love it. There is a directory of Twitter-using teachers at the Twitter4Teachers wiki, and that might be a good starting spot if you are serious about using Twitter as a part of your personal learning network.

Please, just don't follow me. I feel enough guilt already.

Article by Doug Johnson
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World


Updated 04/12/2011