Conference microblogging: FriendFeed, Twitter and now Google+ ?

Blogging is a great format to report from conferences. The regular blog format works best for posts written at the end of the day – unless you are typing really fast. Microblogging, i.e. a number of short or very short posts by a group of people, works better for live blogging of an event and has become very popular.

FriendFeed was probably the first widely used microblogging tool for scientific conferences starting in 2008, and a January 2009 paper describes the experience at 2008 ISMB conference in Toronto. By late 2009 Twitter had surpassed FriendFeed in popularity, and at some point in 2010 most people seemed to have switched from TwitterFriendFeed to FriendFeedTwitter for conference microblogging.

Twitter is a great tool in many ways, but is far from perfect for conferences. The biggest problem is that the tweets about a particular topic aren’t really connected. Hashtags help to find tweets about a particular conference, but hashtags for a particular session have never cought on. This makes it very difficult to have a real discussion, or to find related messages later on.

Facebook is not only extremely popular, but has also taken many of the features of FriendFeed. But for some reason it has not become a popular conference microblogging tool for scientists. I think this is because many people use Facebook primarily for their social interactions, and keep those separate from their professional discussions.

Google+ was released last week, and the services has many of the features of FriendFeed and Facebook (who bought FriendFeed in August 2009, one of the reasons the service has never become that popular). Google+ allows discussions around a particular message (post, tweet?). It doesn’t have groups about a particular topic (e.g. conference), and doesn’t yet understand a concept similar to hashtags. The service looks very nice from a desktop computer, but the mobile version for iPhone and iPad isn’t very polished (I haven’t tested the Android app).

The experience from Twitter tells me that the most important feature for a great conference microblogging tool is popularity, and this is only partly related to the technology behind the service. There are already a good number of science bloggers and other Science 2.0 folks on Google+ and we have seen some good discussions (e.g. a discussion about conference microblogging), so that is a very good sign. But the experience with Google Wave (discontinued) and Google Buzz (not that many people seem to use it) makes me a bit cautious, and I will wait how Google+ evolves in the coming months before I get too exited.

Update: Added a paragraph about Facebook.

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9 Responses to Conference microblogging: FriendFeed, Twitter and now Google+ ?

  1. AJ Cann says:

    I too feel that G+ is more friendfeed-like than anything, which is nice. Let’s hope it continues to improve with time.

  2. Peter says:

    Typo? “… and at some point in 2010 most people seemed to have switched from Twitter to FriendFeed.” Surely they switched to Twitter?

    Also there is some limited linking of tweets to follow a conversation, but it relies on people using the reply mechanism rather than writing “new” tweets.

  3. Martin Fenner says:

    Peter, you are of course right. I changed the typo.

  4. Jason Snyder says:

    If Google can create a room feature I will without question use it for conference blogging, since Google does have popularity going for it. The other major drawback for me is that blackberries have no support, and I’m not about to buy a new device when work is supplying me with an otherwise functional one…or am I?

  5. Martin Fenner says:

    Thanks Jason. I guess we have to wait and see how popular Google+ becomes, and whether we will see a better mobile version (essential for conference blogging), apps for platforms other than Android, and third party services that plug into Google+.

  6. Jo Brodie says:

    Hi Martin

    I always found FriendFeed a bit hopeless for conference blogging because the RSS hashtag stream fed into the room stripped out the Twitterer’s avatar & replaced it with the room’s one – or I was doing it wrong! Have a look at #scc2009 or #scc09 (I forget) to see what I mean. There do seem to be URLs at the end of each posted tweet which are helpful.

    The convention for session session filtered tweets could have been #tag !a and #tag !b however, to my knowledge, only Twapperkeeper permits or permitted this ‘string’ to be used to sweep tweets into folders like a giant Twitter FACS or mass spec machine 😉

    As I’ve exceeded my two permitted Twapper archives I can’t check if it still does though.

    I miss Google Realtime and will really notice its loss – I used it to track hashtags, or any tweet from May 2010 onwards. It allowed you to see threaded conversations too.

    Haven’t met Google+ yet, but I currently use Tweetchat or Tweetdeck to follow hashtagged events in real time, and SearchHash to set up the archive (downloadable as .csv). If I want to blog using the tweets as source material I use Storify as it lets you add in context before, after or between any tweet. To provide a prettier archive than with SearchHash I use Chirpstory (very similar to Storify) because it lets you move a block of tweets in one go, rather than individually as seems to be the case with Storify.

    I’ve wittered on, even more than here haha, about these tools at

  7. Google + is WAY better then FaceBook. Remember MySpace? RIP FaceBook

  8. Jo,

    thanks for the long comment. I prefer FriendFeed over Twitter for conference microblogging, but both have their limitations. It’s too early to say what Google+ will be like, but I sincerely think that a generic solution used by everyone has a much better chance of success than a tool built specifically for scientists blogging at a conference.

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