As mentioned earlier in my blog I was at INSOURCE 2008, 5th-6th February and twittering it. I would not normally Twitter a conference; my usual approach is to record nuggets of information and interesting sites in a Word document on my laptop. On this occasion, though, two colleagues who were not able to attend asked if I would Twitter it so that they could ‘follow’ me and get a flavour of the event. Right from the start I made it clear to them that I was not going to tap in every piece of information from the slide presentations. Most of the presentations are now available on the INSOURCE web site as PowerPoints and some as Word documents. Instead I concentrated on noting down snippets and web sites that I especially wanted to remember and significant comments from the speakers that were not on the slides.
For such an experiment to work one must have a laptop with a reasonably long battery ‘life’ – or easy access to a power socked for recharging during the breaks – and a reliable wi-fi connection. Those criteria were met at this conference (and the wi-fi was free!) but there was one unforeseen problem. The languages of the conference were Czech and English, which meant that I had to use head phones to listen to the simultaneous translations for the Czech papers. Unfortunately the reception on the head sets was frequently disrupted by static apparently caused by nearby laptops, wi-fi connections, mobile phones etc. Luckily, Marydee Ojala was attending the conference and was not as badly affected by the static as me, so she was often able to twitter on when I could not.
Aside from the technical disruption, how did we fare? Both Marydee and I are relatively new to twittering so much of the time early on was spent discovering how the whole thing works. For us the main issues were:
1. The 140 character limit on tweets (entries, postings, updates – whatever). At first this seemed to be a serious limitation but it does concentrate the mind wonderfully and you learn to note just the essentials. In comparison, my previous Word records of conferences appear verbose and full of waffle.
2. The ‘timelines’ or pages are public so one must be careful not to make libellous comments or offend people. It is possible to ‘lock’ your updates/tweets so that only selected followers can see them. If you prefer, you can send private messages to one another – a bit like passing notes in class (now that dates me!).
3. Not all of Marydee’s tweets appeared in my timeline and vice versa. This really did become very annoying as we had to periodically look at each other’s page to check what the other person had said. I have since discovered that this is a known bug and that Twitter is working on it. See The Case of the Missing Updates and Weekend Update on the Twitter Blog.
4. Both Marydee and I are concerned as to how long the tweets remain on the site. You can view the most recent 200 tweets on a page or in your own timeline but there is no mention of any expiration date. 200 may seem a lot but if there are several of you following each other at a conference, you quickly exceed that limit and have to resort to looking at individual pages for the older tweets. For me, that defeats the object of following conferences on Twitter. It is far more interesting and useful to see tweets on the same presentation from different people intermingled. The 200 limit also means that if you want to keep them as a permanent record for even just a few weeks you have to copy the tweets to a locally held document. There is no export facility.
Marydee and I twittered the INSOURCE conference together by ‘following’ each other. Apart from the technical glitches this worked reasonably well. However, if more people were involved it would be far too cumbersome to identify all the twitterers at a conference and follow them. But Twitter have thought of that – see Using Twitter for Your Event. That will be our next Twitter experiment