December 2013

Tessa Keough,

[Editor's Note: Tessa first published this discussion of Twitter on our Blog. We have captured it with the articles so that it can be easily found in future.]

Take a look in the top right-hand corner of our Blog. Yes the Society for One-Place Studies is on Twitter (and you can follow us!). But if you are like many of us where social media is concerned you are probably wondering “what’s the point of Twitter?” Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy social media and I was impressed with the use of Twitter for up-to-the-minute news when any international, political or weather-related situation occurs. But how does that translate to using Twitter with family history. When I asked the question, many devoted tweeters explained it to me./p>

Twitter is:

  • a lightning speed conversation,
  • a crowd-sourced discussion with everyone posting in tight 140 character sound bites,
  • the ability to follow any topic by using hashtags,
  • a platform to follow certain tweeters and/or have them follow you for all the latest news and/or links,
  • immediate and constantly changing, and
  • did I mention that cute little bluebird (or is that a blue bird?)!

Back in February 2011, I opened a Twitter account just in time for RootsTech. I read through the instructions (can’t help it, I am a reader), read a few blog posts about how and why people used and loved Twitter, searched for the correct hashtag to follow the RootsTech discussion, followed a few genealogists who I knew were attending the event (and who intended to tweet to those of us who stayed home), and then sat back to watch Twitter in action.

First, I noticed there was a secret language (when you only have 140 characters, you have to get creative). Second, those individual tweeters were all at the same session (in the same room) and many had the same take-away moments so I saw the same comment tweeted from perhaps 20 people and then, (quite unhelpfully in my opinion) retweeted (what was up with that?). Third, the tweets came fast and furious. I have good eyesight but trying to follow the tweets was like watching a foreign film (while reading all the printed dialogue). Add to that the constant refreshing of the conversation while attempting to compose the occasional tweet (which showed up about 50 tweets past the original tweet) and my conclusion was that Twitter was not really my cup of tea. And I really wanted to like Twitter because so many of my genealogy friends did.

Every so often I would go back to Twitter to try to figure out what my friends saw in it that I didn’t. But it just did not jell for me. One reason was that some tweeters posted the exact same comment several times throughout the day and/or posted their comment under several different Twitter handles. It’s a bit like seeing the same article in every newspaper. Useful takeaways were few and far between and often, due to the 140 character limit, you simply saw a link that required you to click through to see the article and learn anything. Twitter seemed to be an out of control expressway where the drivers drove when and where they pleased (few signals, no lanes and other cars on that expressway had to take care or be run over).

Now, fast forward to November 2013. Because a funny thing happened in my Google+ stream. Jen Baldwin posted that she would host a Google+ hangout for small groups of Google+ users. She planned a 60 minute get together in a relaxed setting (we were all sitting in front of the computers) so we could learn how to use Twitter, ask any questions, and get some tips and suggestions on how to get the most from Twitter (I was hoping to learn how to get anything from it!).

At the close of our hangout, I said to myself “I think I’ve got it!” So, if you are new to Twitter or have not figured out why you might want to use it (especially for family history and one-place studies) I am sharing what we learned a few weeks back and hopefully you will get it too! In order to understand Twitter, I had to visualize what it was for and then how to use it and not use it (thanks Jen).

  • If Google+ is a dinner party (where you sit with a few people for an extended period of time and discuss topics in great detail) then Twitter is a cocktail party
  • When you go to a cocktail party the point is to mingle – you grab a drink and an appetizer, take a quick look around, and then join first one group and then another (you flit)
  • You listen to the ongoing conversation and when there is a lull or you can add something on point, you jump in and make witty banter (not a dissertation and not a heated political discussion)
  • You might network by sharing your card (your twitter handle), making a suggestion, answering a question, or offering to send a link to your new acquaintances
  • And then, you move on to the next group and do the same thing all over again
  • A cocktail party usually has a variety of people – you never know who you might meet and you want to make a good impression so Jen had a few suggestions:
    • Don’t be the person who shouts his/her arrival
    • Don’t be the bore who drones on and on about themselves
    • Don’t be the person who goes to each group and says the same thing (you know the person who is there to sell themselves but they never engage in conversation or want to listen to or learn about anyone else)

With all the various conversations going on throughout the day on Twitter, how do we focus on using Twitter for family history and one-place studies (and how do we get rid of all that extra noise)?

Now I have told you a bit about my experience with Twitter. Jen Baldwin’s Google+ hangout on “how to use and enjoy Twitter” was quite helpful. I always understood that each of the social platforms has its own strengths (and its own adherents or fans) but I needed to figure out how Twitter is useful to family history or genealogy. Quick recap from last week: Twitter provides an excellent method to communicate and stay connected to individuals or topics that interest you (without much discussion – remember that 140 character limit!). Twitter is focused on the immediate with cell phone/mobile apps that encourage a quick sound bite approach to conversation. There are three methods for interacting with others on Twitter: I can follow you and you can follow me; I can follow you and you don’t follow me; and you can follow me and I don’t follow you.

One of the best ways to experience Twitter (to see how it works in practice and if you like it) is to attend a Twitter cocktail party – Jen Baldwin actually hosts them and she calls them a “#genchat.” On the second and fourth Friday of each month, she sends invitations listing the topic (notifications in Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the Geneawebinars calendar). If the topic interests you, then you grab your own drink and appetizer (remember you are in front of your computer, tablet or smartphone) and at the appointed hour - the party starts! I attended my first #genchat a few weeks ago using my Twitter account so the pace of the party and the interaction was dismal. If you have ever tried to follow a group conversation in real time on Twitter, you know that there are serious limitations and the constant need to refresh your screen to capture new posts (tweets). Jen mentioned two apps she uses to take control of that out-of-control expressway called Twitter - TweetDeck and Twubs (did you notice the T theme going on with all things Twitter?).

TweetDeck takes the Twitter expressway and places your conversations in their own lanes of traffic. Twubs goes a step further and puts all the people monitoring that same hashtag in their own party bus – you have a driver (the host), are free to move around at your own pace (fast, slow or pause – you are in control), do not have to hashtag your chat (it’s done for you) and, since you are on the party bus, you don’t see the expressway or other lanes of traffic, you simply see the other riders on your party bus.

Shown below are examples of my TweetDeck set up to follow various topics and my Twubs open during a genchat hosted by Jen Baldwin.

Tweet Deck – placing all of your topics (by hashtag) in their own lanes!
Tweet Deck – placing all of your topics (by hashtag) in their own lanes!
Twubs – you choose the speed, all conversation in one place, and no need to add hashtag - so your focus is on the conversation!
Twubs – you choose the speed, all conversation in one place, and no need to add hashtag -
so your focus is on the conversation!

Jen suggested we set up both a TweetDeck and a Twubs account (be sure to sign up for your Twitter account first). You can then configure TweetDeck to keep track of all those lanes of traffic – mine are #familyhistory, #genealogy, #1placestudies, and #genchat. Depending on your other interests, you can have as many additional topics as you want to follow. TweetDeck is a good method to keep track of the news relating to your areas of interest. But when you want to focus on a specific chat (your own party bus), flag down Twubs and let the conversation begin.

I recently attended #genchat with both TweetDeck and Twubs open (on different monitors). I was able to see the tweets in both TweetDeck and Twubs and they were a real improvement over the Twitter platform, however, Twubs was a much better experience for a real time conversation. The conversation scrolled through at a manageable pace and I could easily focus and join in. I followed the unwritten rules – I got my drink, introduced myself, listened first, and then joined in. I asked a few questions, read the answers, and asked some follow-up questions or made comments (interaction). I met genealogists I didn’t know, I learned some new things, and got tips and opinions on which conferences other genealogists were going to in 2014 and why (or why not) based on their experiences at prior conferences. All in all, it was an enjoyable 60 minutes.

I cannot stress enough that Twitter and Google+ are two very different platforms. The stream in Google+ is topic-oriented and specific to the post and its responses – it does not require you to follow anyone or for them to follow you back. You follow topics or interests rather than individuals and the pace at Google+ is more like checking in with blogs, reading newspapers, or catching up with good friends. Twitter’s platform is for following individuals or entities and quickly getting a snippet of their news as it scrolls quickly past you – one of those quick conversations as you pass each other on the street. A Twitter chat is nothing like a Google+ hangout (or hangout on air). The beauty of a Twitter conversation and especially a #genchat was that I could get up and leave for a bit (I was able to check on dinner in the oven and take a quick listen to the news on the television), I felt comfortable multi-tasking (checking out the websites mentioned and making notes) because no one could see what I was doing. I could also leave without any fanfare and no one was concerned (I had to keep reminding myself that Twitter is a cocktail party, arrive and leave at your choosing).

Some takeaways:

  • Twitter is a one to many conversation (this is one way it differs from instant messaging)
  • Twitter requires some “following” of persons or entities in order to engage in conversation
  • Twitter is immediate news and short conversations
  • Twitter requires the use of hashtags (but this has caught on and is now used with both Facebook and Google+) so play with them and follow a variety to get a sense of the news and conversation those hashtags return
  • If you are interested in controlling your Twitter feed, you should try one or more apps that corral the Twitter universe and make it manageable
  • As Facebook, Google+ and Twitter appeal to different users, if you want to engage or get your message out about your one-place study, you will want to post to each platform (but focus your message toward that particular group)
  • Think about using Twitter to engage people or entities that are part of your one-place study (perhaps individuals, businesses and government offices for your place are on Twitter or follow Twitter and might share news or information)

Do you use Twitter? Do you use Twitter for your one-place study? If so, how do you use it and what are your tips about getting the most from this social media platform? Now the Society would appreciate it if you would follow us (@OnePlaceStudies) and, if you follow us, we will be sure to follow you. Like so many aspects of internet technology, you have to play around with each social media platform to decide if, and how, you want to use it. You might want to join the monthly #genchat for geography with family history also hosted by Jen Baldwin. Perhaps we will find some tips and suggestions for our one-place studies.

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