This week’s Twitter success, and how it affects (academic) conversation

Note to future twitter readers: start from the bottom & work your way up.

I’m having a really good week on Twitter (and not just because I have 30 or so new, wonderful followers from our DH praxis class, though that certainly helps).

Look at that: FIVE favorites, ONE re-tweet, and the re-tweet came from an Open Access related association/company/group that I don’t even know! Of course I followed them back.

The problem with Twitter, and specifically the tweets shown above, is that they’re difficult to document (or read) after the fact. These two in particular happened in succession as part of a conversation between me, myself, and the Wall Street Journal. They will live forever on the Internet, backwards. As a person that prides herself on subtle jokes and one-liners I find this deeply troubling.

  • Should I have tweeted backwards for the benefit of future readers, but to the disservice of active twitter users?
  • Should I delete?
  • What if some high ranking administrator at my institution sees my Tweet and doesn’t get it?
  • Should I make my Twitter private? What’s really the point of Twitter, then?
  • Should I have hyperlinked the article in question? What if it had been behind a pay-wall?

(When my worries about Twitter use turn into a bulleted list, I know it’s time to slowly back away from the computer…)

The Library of Congress has begun archiving tweets, so I am inclined to believe that the present conversation is not what matters but rather the conversation’s future impact. Despite my better-than-average week on twitter – combining popular media with my profession in a concise-less-than-140-character package – I’m not sure if who actually matters actually cares.

Academia is beginning to care. I think. Emerging products such as Altmetric (and specifically I’m talking about Altmetric the product from Digital Science, not altmetrics the concept) enables researchers and scholars to quickly see the active conversations happening around article-level content. Such information happens in real-time, just as twitter intended. This function is contrary to both the current rate of publishing – super, super slow – and well curated article citations that have historically defined academic conversations. The traditional academic conversation has seen criticism of late, with the emergence of peer review scams and bogus scientific articles, which to me indicates a serious flaw in the publishing process, available resources, and the resulting competitive nature of academia. Despite the emergence of such concepts and products that may very well be helping to subvert the traditional process I am brought back to Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s reference in regards to academia and the Silicon Valley. With my altmetrics/Altmetrics example, the concept emerged as a possible solution to collect and display scholarly conversations, but the product (capital “A”) has been monetized.

In my daily work – I’m the E-Resources Librarian at Queens College – I receive cold-calls (industry term: “Inside sales”) on a schedule: at the end of each quarter, so that representatives can make their numbers and receive bonuses (for speed boats, etc.). Library vendors (publishers, mostly) want to sell me stuff, and yes, I’m very disillusioned about it. Before joining the ranks of faculty librarianship I worked for a vendor and I know well what’s happening behind-the-scenes before I’m called.

So how does this relate to DH? I’m not convinced that citing social media and related sources are DH. I do think that DHers, or those inclined to accept it as a discipline and perhaps learn and use its methods, are more likely to follow along via such outlets. I’m also curious about the monetary aspects of DH. When I join the ranks of those that can claim DH scholarship and practice, will I have to add names to my digital rolodex of “reps to dodge lest they try to sell me something”?

6 thoughts on “This week’s Twitter success, and how it affects (academic) conversation

  1. Sarah Cohn

    I have also been thinking about Twitter and the academic conversation, but more about the public/professional divide that many (most? all?) academic Twitter users straddle. So many of our readings over the last two weeks have indicated that—in DH—Twitter is where it all happens, yet for Stephen Salaita, Twitter is where it all ended. Academia cares what you say on Twitter, maybe not for tenure, but certainly when their institution’s reputation is at stake.

    Your mention the LoC Twitter archive brought to mind one of the readings that talked about the transient nature of Twitter, citing links to interesting articles or DH projects that got lost in the volume of posts, never to be found again. For many users, good or interesting items get lost in the shuffle, but for others, a few tweets have the amazing ability to stick around, and bring a lot of trouble.

  2. Julia Pollack

    The example of Stephen Salaita has been something I have been thinking a lot about lately. I am a University of Illinois Alumni and I think that the Universities actions and then inaction about this scholar have been awful. Not that I want to defend anyone but I think there is a strange pre-context to this incidence that happened early in the year. Students at The U of I were notified during the SUPER COLD winter that they would not get a snow day. Twitter erupted with a huge volume of racist hate speech by students against Chancellor Wise. While I think this is no excuse to condemn scholars speaking out in radical ways that Universities are always looking for but never quite endorsing, I think it tells a story that administrations in schools and Universities are unsure of how to proceed in the issues of twitter speak. How do we think about radical Twittering? How do we think about Twitter hate speech? (sigh)

  3. Kelly Marie Blanchat Post author

    Perhaps it needs an assessment of when and in what context to use Twitter. For instance: are those affiliated with a university tweeting for professional advancement or scholarly dissemination, or are they trying to connect with a larger audience? If the latter, does a non-professional audience see more clout in tweets from a university faculty member, or should ‘radical’ text be transferred to a non-professional account?
    I have my twitter as a merge between personal and professional — my bio references libraries and Beyonce and pizza. I like all those things, but I’m still careful about what kind of information I provide publicly, and whether it could ever be questioned later.
    Lots of information can get lost on twitter, and often feel overwhelming (especially when following along with DH conversations + publications), but the stuff that is controversial can easily resurface. And probably will!

  4. Julia Pollack

    I really appreciate hearing how people manage their twitter, I have been silent Twitter lurker and I think I am a terrible late adopter, but it is helpful to know how other people draw the lines between Jay and bey and academic tweeting. The DH community on Twitter at least seems pretty “nice” as we have discussed 🙂

    If anyone else has any stores about how the curate and manage their Twitter personalities I would love to hear them.

  5. Kelly Marie Blanchat Post author

    Joy! I can help. It’s super fun once it’s set up. The video in the first link that Matt provided is useful, but only if you pause and follow along step-by-step. I recommend that as a first step 🙂

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