Some Ruminations on Twitter in Scholarly Contexts

Posted: July 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Research, web 2.0, Writing | No Comments »

I’m by no means a Twitter power-user, nor am I a neophyte, falling somewhere comfortably in between. My tools of choice include Twitterfox and I also tweet via SMS from my phone… My Facebook status updates are tied to my Twitter account, and I’ve been known to play Spymaster a time or two. I know what @ and # are used for. On the other hand, I don’t use Tweetdeck, I’m a bad twitizen when it comes to things like “Follow Fridays,” and I only occasionally send out a retweet.

But I’m fascinated by the “twipping point” (okay, I’ll stop that right now, I promise) the Twitter app has reached really just this past year, marked by moments such as CNN vs. Ashton Kutcher in the race to garner a million followers, the Mars Rover Tweet stream, and the deluge of Washington politicians, Blackberries at the ready, tapping out their sometimes ill-formed (and ill-advised) thoughts about their political opponents or questionable legislation. Certainly, this has trickled into the artistic world as well, sometimes as farce (see the Twitter stream of Homer’s Odyssey or Joyce’s Ulysses), sometimes as a legitimate experiment with artistic form and narrative (see, for example, Brent Spiner’s noirish microblogging). Short-form writing seems well suited for this stage of the web–interconnected social networks, interconnected devices (many of which place limits on the amount of text you can/want to input), divided attention spans…

Which brings me to my point about Twitter in scholarly contexts. Already I’ve seen expected and *useful* applications of Twitter, such as real-time updates and session notes by conference attendees, buzz-building around interesting articles in a newly released journal, and even as a synchronous communication option for in-class discussion. These are all well and good, but I wonder if Twitter has the capacity to become something more for scholarship. As with the literary examples alluded to above, I wonder if, for example, one might create a one-off Twitter stream that has the heft and weight of, say, a journal article or book chapter. Aphoristic writing, for anyone familiar with the work of Wittgenstein or Neitzsche, is an already recognized form of intellectual expression (if, admittedly, a bit dated). Mix in some Twitter multimedia capabilities like Twitpic, and you have added value that makes it potentially “more than” its print counterpart. A possible metric of how well received such a piece is might be the account’s number of followers in addition to traditional quality markers such as citations. Such projects might eventually get re-worked and remediated into print, since it’s still very much the medium of choice in academic circles (see here for yet another analogue).

Of course, we may be confusing a “tipping point” with a peak, and this whole trend of microblogging may go the way of the Pet Rock or Limp Bizkit: noise overtakes signal, and everyone packs up and goes home.




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