Hashtags, a scientific use case for Twitter.


Well, OK, perhaps I oversold this blog entry in the title a little, but what I want to describe is my experience of using Twitter during a conference, and how its use extended the experience of the conference. The conference experience being so important for scientists means that this may well be a good scientific application for Twitter. Hashtags is a site that tracks words prepended with a hash that appear on Twitter, and displays all of them on one page, with a small graph showing the rise and fall of usage of the tag over time. Last week I was at the Open Repositories meeting in Southampton and there were a good few people at the meeting using Twitter. We used the tag OR08, and during the course of the meeting using the Hashtags site I was able to get a feel about what was going on in some of the other sessions, but even more interestingly during specific talks small micro conversations about the presentation emerged through Twitter. It was not only a fun experience, but it definitely enriched the experience of the conference.

Lorcan Dempsey recently described the idea of the amplified conference, where the adoption of new social media tools sends out tremors in the social graph of people who follow others attending various meetings, and I really like this model for what is going on here. Any one blog post, or tweet, on its own might pass below the radar, but a sudden burst tells the story that there might be something interesting going on.

Of course Twitter is not the only player in this space. Eventtrack also looks interesting (thanks Gavin!), and with many moves going on towards personal aggregation, over time more such sites are going to emerge. At the moment these aggregation sites are looking at event based trails through a message space. Each tweet is an event in this space, and the openness of Twitter makes it very easy to track the rise and fall of messages with specific tags. One could certainly think of academic papers as events in an academic paper-space. One wonders why there are not more trackers for signals and bursts in the scientific literature.


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