Thing 7 (Twitter) seems to be dividing the Cambridge 23 Things community substantially. Theres much enthusiasm for it by some regular users, such as Trainee Mermaid, ilk21, Emma, Aidan Baker, Lottie Smith and Andy Priestner. On the other hand, theres also a growing band of sceptics, and the downright hostile, led by Miss Crail and including evans above and Miriam.
As someone whos not used Twitter before (though Ive occasionally looked at peoples Twitter pages), I have been trying to feel enthused about it for this week, and largely failing to do so. It was easy enough to set up my Twitter account (once Id decided to stick with the current alias and that I was not going to attempt to post via a mobile). And I can see the appeal of Twitter for entertainment or for the long-distance equivalent of commenting to a friend about a TV programme youre watching together.
Its how you can use Twitter in a professional role that I have my doubts about. It helps if you have a better interface than the main Twitter one, as N Page has very usefully explained, but that still doesnt solve the broader question of usefulness. The strengths and limitations of Twitter are its format: it is intended for short public messages that can be sent and received rapidly by people anywhere. It does seem useful for libraries to inform their users about changed hours, events, etc. But a lot of the other suggested uses dont really appeal to me.
A lot has been made, for example, about the use of Twitter for getting rapid news updates, but I wonder if weve truly thought about how quickly we need to know things. How much benefit is there from knowing details about the iPad or the Budget as they are being announced, rather than the next day, or even the next week? Im even more dubious about the supposed advantages of tweeting from conferences. Andy Priestner talks about how he can interact with those not at the event about the content in real time. I would suggest that it might be better to focus on interacting with the flesh and blood people actually at the conference. I know some of my other readers have used Twitter at conferences, so Id be interested to hear their views, but I cant think of any tweet-based form that would be as useful to a conference non-attender like me as a reflective blog post on a conference session, even if does arrive several weeks (or even more) later.
As a broader point, its all too easy to start thinking that our current awareness is somehow improved if we know about something important this minute, rather than later this week. For some situations, that may be the case. But Im not sure how many occasions there are in most librarians professional lives in which they need to use the new thing theyve learned that very day. Im increasingly convinced of the potential for using rss feeds as a means of keeping up with a topic (whether its medieval history or librarianship) and Im not sure how much advantage Twitter has over that, especially since many keen Twitterers seem to do a lot of blogging as well. With a feed reader, its probably as quick to scan a blog title, or the first few lines of a post, as to read a tweet (especially for those like me who are not used to text-speak), and I suspect theres less redundancy. In particular, I find it infuriating that tweets giving links to webpages are often very badly written. With a snipped URL and no adequate description, I often only find when Ive opened a link that its to something Ive already read. Without any easy way of filtering out the useful from the trivial in peoples tweet-streams, Im left feeling that the noise to signal ratio is just too high most of the time.
Its not that I cant see possible uses: crowd-sourcing of queries by your followers does sound helpful. But how much commitment as a Twitter user does it take to build those kind of relationships? My online time is limited (though probably not as limited as it ought to be, for the sake of my family). Im currently dubious that Twitter is the most effective use of it.