People seem surprised that I'm using Twitter to share my research findings. But Twitter isn't the time waster its name implies. Yes, you can follow the comings and goings of celebrities. Yes, many people post inane details from their lives (in quick succession one night a friend posted “Getting ready to go the bar,” “Heading to the bar,” “At the bar”).
What many are realizing, though, is that Twitter is also a useful tool for governments, businesses and researchers to share information. Frequent, short “status updates” or tweets keep users up to date on everything from city council meeting to store sales to... research projects.
Look on the left of this page and you'll see a box with my latest tweets. (That's me: streetsjustice). They'll say something similar to this tweet I posted after watching a video about Janette Sadik-Khan's work as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation:
Twitter users post 140 character status updates like the one above--on anything from what they ate for dinner to a link to the minutes of a city council meeting--from their computer or cell phone. When you come across an interesting “tweet” (status update) you can “follow” the user who posted it so that each time she posts a tweet, it will appear in your “Twitter feed”.
It's not as complicated as it sounds; the simplest way to think about it is as a conversation: you post what's on your mind and others can respond by replying to or “retweeting” your posts (reposting to their list of followers). If you like what someone says once, you look out for more of what they have to say by having their “tweets” go directly to your page.
While people seem to have a lot of conversations about celebrities, they also talk about politics, business, academics, and shopping and therefore those things have all found a place in the “Twitterverse”.
For instance, the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce has a Twitter account. So does the Toronto City Clerk, who posts the minutes and agendas of city council and various committee meetings, along with updates during meetings. Other cities, like Sacramento, Edmonton, and Kingston do the same. The website govtwit.org provides a directory of government agencies and elected officials using Twitter.
Though my supervising professor told me that Trent University has no policy on how to use social media to communicate research, academia is getting into social media, too.
Twitter user “HavardResearch” keeps its followers updated on “advances in research and scholarship from across Harvard University”. That page only posts links to published research, which isn't much different from posting those links on a webpage.
The Wildlife Research Institute is doing something a bit different. I came across the Twitter page (“bearstudy”) of a study that organization is conducting. A researcher describes her encounters with the bears they are studying in real time with Tweets like these:
June 14, 2010 (10:52 AM CDT) Hope kept me waiting this morning. She 'appeared' at the feeding station 45 mins after I arrived.
This is similar to how I'm using Twitter, as a kind of project log. When I get an idea that relates to my project, I tweet it. Since I can use my cellphone to update my twitter status, I can document an idea any time it strikes me. Every time I write a blog post, I look at my recent tweets to refresh myself of ideas I've come across in the past few days. When I come across an article, idea or statistic I've tweeted and still find it interesting, I'll share it on the blog.
So why share my research notes online?
48 heads are better than one: by sharing my ideas with my 48 twitter followers I can get as many as 48 different perspectives on those ideas. The more perspectives I can take into account in my final report, the better my research will be. And, the closer people are to the research process, the more ownership and connection they will have to the final report. That will hopefully give it more community relevance as I submit it to the City of Peterborough at the end of the summer.
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