What’s Livetweeting For, Anyway?

No longer live tweetingLast week, an anonymous Ph.D. student published a Guardian op-ed under the headline “I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer.” Among other complaints, the author (a laboratory scientist) condemned the practice of livetweeting academic conferences. Livetweeters care less about disseminating new knowledge, Anonymous wrote, than about making self-promotional displays: Look at me taking part in this event.

I hate to admit it, but the author may have a point. When I shared the article, one of my friends, an anthropologist, observed that she finds livetweeting “baffling” because she would rather listen—and be listened to—than be distracted during a conference talk. Katrina Gulliver, an influential advocate of Twitter use by historians, told me (via, yes, Twitter) that she no longer approves of conference livetweeting either. “Staring at screens is uncollegial,” she argued; it interferes with face-to-face discussions, and the value of the information passed along is dubious too, because “tweets present (or misrepresent) work in [a] disconnected, out of context way.” Bradley Proctor told me he has had one of his talks misrepresented by a livetweeter—a particularly sensitive issue for someone who researches Reconstruction-era racial violence.

Surely these are important concerns. It seems to me that conference livetweeters—yours truly included—need to get better at articulating explicit objectives and boundaries if we’re going to take these risks. So what do people say about the way they use Twitter at conferences?

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On Social Media Feeds for Historical Organizations and History Departments

TwitterFBTurns out that after several stints running social media accounts for different institutions, I have feelings about what works and what doesn’t. What follows is a prescriptive ramble of things that historical organizations and history departments should be doing on Twitter and Facebook, with the understanding that there is a lot that I’m not covering, such as general Twitter etiquette, blogs, Tumblr, podcasts, or other social media topics we’ve already covered here. I’ll leave it to you in the comments to discuss these issues further—and to point out which additional accounts strike you as models to follow. Continue reading

Twitter as an Agent of Change

The Junto (thejuntoblog) on Twitter“It’s only about what people eat for breakfast.”

“It caused the Arab Spring, you know.”

“It’s nothing but Justin Bieber fans writing gobbledygook.”

“I saw someone do a wonderful live-tweet of a conference last week.”

“I hate when people livetweet conferences.”

What good is Twitter, anyway? And why should you use it? Inspired by the defense of academic blogging offered in this space last month by Ken Owen, I want to offer a few thoughts on using Twitter as a professional historian. Over the past few months, I’ve had several discussions, both in-person and online, in which I’ve been called on to defend Twitter (it seems that others see me as either an effective or at least irrepressible user). After over three years on the service (@jmadelman, if you’re curious), I’ve certainly developed a theory of Twitter for myself. I would not offer it as universal, but I do think it’s important to highlight what’s good about it, and perhaps one or two things that I don’t like.

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