ScienceOnline2011 Twitter hashtag #scio11: annoying or inclusive?

It’s been a week and I still haven’t gotten my own reflections written about ScienceOnline2011 – what author Scott Huler called “the South by Southwest of science communications conferences” (News & Observer, 16th Jan 2011).

One goal of the conference was to be as inclusive as possible by livestreaming several of the sessions online and encouraging liberal use of the Twitter hashtag, #scio11, for meeting commentary and follow-up discussions. For me, a local who attended but missed parts of the meeting owing to work and family commitments, the hashtag was helpful. In fact, the tweets that continue are also useful in thinking not only about next year’s conference but also in now implementing ideas and skills we all learned.

However, there is a certain sense of exclusion in going on and on about the meeting for those not in attendance – a feeling I used to get after missing an episode of Saturday Night Live in high school and coming into class on Monday feeling totally out of the loop as my friends carried on about the best skits (this was the 1970s and early 1980s with most of the original cast). So, I understand when my dear friend and colleague DrugMonkey wrote:

FFFS, are you people all done with the#scio11 reacharounds yet? can we get back to business? #FWDAOTI

(DM also wins my prize for coining “pre-charounds” to describe the anticipatory discussions ongoing with the #scio12 hashtag.)

While Brother Drug has been quite active in using Twitter at scholarly society meetings such as the Society for Neuroscience, his co-blogger, PhysioProf, abhors Twitter – this was his response when someone signed him up for Twitter.

PP recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the general topic at his own blog entitled, “Twitter and Scholarly Discourse.” Therein, Comrade PhysioProf discusses a post at Roxie’s World on the use of Twitter at the recent MLA meeting where 3,000 (43%) of the 7,000 tweets were dominated by just ten users.

For comparison, What The Hashtag?! tells us that the #scio11 hashtag counts 5,800 tweets as of this morning with about 1,400 (24%) from the top 10 users. However, 467 (8% of total) of these were from the Blogfather, Bora Zivkovic. Therefore, I conclude from these data and additional information at WTH that Twitter use was far more widespread among attendees and included substantial discussion outside of those present: the #scio11 hashtag was used by 1,009 accounts but only 300 people were at the meeting.

Nevertheless, PhysioProf holds forth in his inimitable manner about how Twitter is a threat to contemplation:

First, I believe that it–like Facebook–is deeply destructive of the mental operation of contemplation. The entire intrinsic structure of the medium is 100% oriented towards MORE, FASTER, BRIEFER, SUPERFICIALER communication. It is about collecting: friends, links, retweets, followers, hashtags, etc, and not about describing, explaining, or contemplating. It is about avoiding deep thought, not embracing it.

Indeed, I agree that the immediacy of the medium does sometimes detract from my comprehension and contemplation in some ways. While I’m not among the top 10 users of the hashtag, I did intentionally shut off Tweetdeck during some of the meeting to just simply experience it. I had my flipcam with me for all activities but took no videos, even of those friends I have longed to meet. I have a total of perhaps 30 photographs. In fact, I’ve recently taken to just leaving the gadgets at home – most recently leaving my camera at home during a snorkling trip to Key West with PharmKid and PharmGirl, MD – simply because I wanted to be mindful and in the moment of the experience with them.

But, then again, the real-time tweeting helped me keep tabs on concurrent sessions and see what others found were important points in the session that I was attending. The continued tweeting has also been valuable to view subsequent contemplative blogposts from others about the sessions (something I need to do once I get some work stuff out of my way).

I know that many of our readers here at PLoS Blogs were not in attendance at ScienceOnline2011. But whether you were at the conference or not, how do you feel about use of the #scio11 hashtag – during the meeting and/or now in the wake of the conference?

As for me, I’ll be tweeting the link to this post as soon as I press, “Publish.”


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34 Responses to ScienceOnline2011 Twitter hashtag #scio11: annoying or inclusive?

  1. DrugMonkey says:

    I liked it. Nice opt-in to follow some of the doings from afar. Nobody’s forcing Twitfuseniks like PP to read along….

  2. I am of two minds about it. I enjoyed the live-tweeting of the sessions because seeing some of the more poignant sound-bites without context gave me the opportunity to think them through on my own, however it also just sorta made me melancholy about not being there in person. Also it was incredibly hard to keep up with at times.

  3. tideliar says:

    I don’t think anyone should try and keep up with it in real time. The blast of noise is overwhelming, impossible to parse, and out of context – even for attendees. I like the hashtag though because it gives me an easy way, when I choose, to dip into the hivemind. The better communicators include enough information or URLs for one to be able to follow up/add moar context.

    As to feeling left out because of the hashtag, I think that points to an individual’s emotional security (said with all due respect; I’m not trolling). You were left out when you chose not to attend, or couldn’t afford to attend, of couldn’t register fast enough. Adding a wash of ennui due a hashtag seems self-indulgent.

    (Sent from my phone, sorry for tyops)

  4. "Shecky R." says:

    well, Twitter itself is both annoying and inclusive, so I certainly understand those 2 views of the #scio11 hashtag. I’ve slowly learned to love Twitter for its valuable practical/functional utility, but still wary of its social-networking uses which seem a mix of positives & negatives. But then I’ve long deplored Facebook as well, and wish SOMEone would come along and implement a much better version of it (uhh, maybe PhysioProf can work on that!!).

  5. Graham Steel says:

    My $0.02

    I’ve been following this event virtually since 2008 but truly miss not being there in person. :’-(

    I had a (very) small part to play in terms of advice re. the livestreaming and it (streaming) worked as best as I’ve seen it yet. Apart from one session (w/ Dr Isis which had tech. probs), I (and other virtual attendees) was able to follow Rooms B & C all weekend online. NICE

    During #solo10 a few of us tried adopting specific hashtags for specific breakouts (one of the aims being to draw in tweets from virtual attendees) but this failed on all fronts. In theory, if well planned in advance, this potentially should work, but with Twitter being such a rapid fire medium, I think that sticking with a singular hashtag IMO is the best option, at least for now for this type of event.

    “the #scio11 hashtag was used by 1,009 accounts but only 300 people were at the meeting”. AMEN

    I agree with @EcoPhysioMichelle in terms of “it was incredibly hard to keep up with at times”. That’s the nature of the beast however as such events are very intense in terms of the large amount of output of information over a day or two. As such, as much as possible, I prepare myself well in advance for what’s to come.

    I’ll leave it there, but will cite this related post from Martin Fenner:-

  6. I absolutely agree with what PP said about the threat to contemplation. I feel it whenever I’m sitting here, trying to contemplate but instead finding myself distracted by the simultaneous mental noise of four Twitter accounts in which I’m following hundreds of people, all of them interesting, Facebook, IM, three email accounts, and three blogs with active commenting. That gets overwhelming and while it appeals to the ADHD in me, it also erodes whatever focus I’ve got left. All of it *is* a threat to contemplation…and I know that…yet I find myself helplessly drawn to it, following it, and participating in it.

    There’s a huge attraction in the keeping-up factor, seeing that daily tsunami of information–some of it useful, some of it not–coming in from all over the place, coalescing into “this day in science” for me. It’s fulfilling my urge and lifelong goal always to be learning, except it does it in hyperdrive. That is both good and bad, for obvious reasons. You get the superficial, as PP points out, possibly without taking–or having–the time to pause, mull, reflect because the hits just keep on coming.

    So…Twitter in general is annoying and inclusive and useful, I’d argue…and sometimes, one just needs to turn it all off and…contemplate. If people monitoring the hashtag felt (understandably) left out of things, the best solution would have been not to monitor it and to wait for the inevitable blogging roundup of the core messages of the conference.

  7. Jo Brodie says:

    I’ve enjoyed catching up with some of the tweets. At one point it seemed as if my entire stream was participating 😉

    It’s probably a good sign if, a week after the event, the hashtag is still quite lively, although perhaps it’s taking on a life of its own.

    Re: varying the tag for differernt sessions – this is something I’m aware of and have tested, but not used in a real setting. Twapperkeeper (similar to WThashtag) has the added functionality of letting you put tagged tweets in ‘folders’. I think you use a ! for that, so you’d write something like #scio11 !s1 in tweets for the first session and #scio11 !s2 in those for the 2nd and Twapp’r will let you see all the s1 or s2 tweets later on (probably in real time too).

    Having said that I prefer the usability of wthashtag far more but since both can be set up with such ease users it makes little difference.

    It’s a shame Tweetnotes stalled as that lookes like it would have been ideal.

    Has anyone solved the annoyance with Friendfeed for hashtag streams? I gave up with it 18 months ago because it failed to include author information, so there would be an undifferentiated mass of content coming into a room via the searched-for hashtag feed which was confusing.

    Google’s Realtime (formerly Updates) interface could also be improved but it lets you roll back quite nicrly, up to a point. You can also use that service to Google for tweets back to May 2010 I think. Apparently Twitter doesn’t let anyone scroll back beyond 3,500 tweets which I suspect means that Google’s plans to make all tweets (from 2006) available might be a bit stuck.

  8. Coturnix says:

    A little timeline, and a few points…

    Last year, at ScienceOnline2010, proportion of attendees on Twitter was smaller. Yet, people not physically present were actively asking the attendees to livetweet the sessions. I felt obligated – as one of the people with the most followers – to tweet a lot. I also identified good tweeters and at each timeslot figured out in which room they were so I could pay attention to them – this allowed me to see what was happening in other rooms as well as being able to rewteet their stuff to others. If a session was tweeted by Janet Stemwedel or Dorothea Salo, it was covered really well – they know how to form cogent, informative, accurate summaries of what was just said. So, this is why I tweeted a LOT last year.

    This year, I tweeted much less. I did not tweet at all from a few sessions and did not even have a laptop with me at two sessions. This is because about 90% of attendees were on Twitter this year. There were many more people who have mastered the art of tweeting well. There were several people who have way more followers than I do. I felt it was OK for me to scale back my own tweeting a little bit.

    I do not feel I am missing much from the discussion if I tweet and follow Twitter in real-time. But this perhaps takes practice (I feel I am better at that this year than last year myself) so perhaps new users or infrequent users are still finding it more difficult.

    Many more people have, this year, specifically asked , nah begged, for good active livetweeting from the participants. Hundreds if not thousands followed the conference virtually, combining Ustream with Twitter to get a better grasp.

    Also, my 6000+ followers are not just scientists or sciencebloggers – the “echo-chamber”! There are social media geeks, there are journalists, there are lay audiences of our science blogs, there are celebs, there are personal friends, there are North Carolina neighbors, there are people from the Balkans, etc. They ALL got, through my tweets, to see what Scio11 was about, perhaps got intrigued. During the event, I did not lose followers (indicating they were fed up with my barrage of tweets they were not interested in) but gained many new ones instead. The official @scio11 account also gained many new followers last week – people wanted to follow virtually.

    Twitter is also good for people in the audience immediatelly pulling up and sharing links that are verbally mentioned by people discussing in the room – that is a valuable service.

    We looked into the idea of seperate hashtags for different sessions, observed how they were used at other meetings, and decided that at a conference with such a plugged-in audience and an unconference format, they would never work properly. A few sessions did have their own – moderators made them – but search for that hashtag brings up only a small proportion of tweets covering that particular session.

    Finally, I find value in Twitter mostly in real-time: sitting in one room and keeping an eye on what is happening in the other four rooms. But afterwards, I see the tweets (collected in a few places, e.g., this one, organized chronologically and divided by dates) mostly as notes that people wrote for themselves and others. Those notes are now used for writing more in-depth blog posts which are much more useful for everyone in long-term. So if you were confused by tweets in real-time, you can just wait for people to write blog posts (probably more accurate blog posts because bloggers have tweets to search for notes and information). Many blog posts are already up.

    As for sessions that were not tweeted as much as the others? In a year or two, when everyone is on Twitter and using it intelligently, all the sessions at all conferences will be covered well. It is still early years, and some people have more catching up to do than others – this is quite normal and OK.

  9. I liked the live-tweeting of sessions, although I am of two minds whether people should be doing that. I think I retain/consider more if I’m writing it down as I go, but the problem with Twitter is that you’re encourage to read (what’s going on outside the event) as you go, too, so that can be a problem.

    I could totally do without all the cool-kid chitchat. I didn’t feel excluded by it, but that kind of thing is rarely interesting to anyone not an integral part of the group doing it. And there isn’t any good way to avoid it if a lot of people you normally follow are doing it.

    I’d probably look at the stream of live-session tweets if it had its own hashtag, just to dip in and see what’s up. I myself wouldn’t bother to follow multiple tags. I like Twitter, and I look at it quite a few times day, but I don’t bother with any kind of client on my desktop, and I’m not interested in the myriad tools for making sense of brazillions of hashtags. I guess you could say I like it, but I don’t *like* like it.

    I don’t think anyone should try and keep up with it in real time.

    Remarks like this imply a unitary approach to Twitter or to taking a look at events that are being twittered as they happen. My approach to Twitter is explicitly to treat it as a real-time stream of info that I might (but usually won’t) dig into a little, so I guess this is the first thing I’ve read as this conversation unfolded that is actually rejecting of my experience.

  10. (Oh, ha, if it is not obvious: I was not there. :))

  11. Tom says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, David. Reading one of your posts takes a LONG time since I feel compelled to follow all your links. Do you EVER sleep?

  12. Coturnix says:

    Also, as I said at the very beginning of my brief welcome, ScienceOnline is a continuous online conference. The January meeting is just a brief in-the-real-world portion of it. Most of it used to happen on blogs throughout the year, which is much harder to keep connected, but these days the continuity of the conference happens mostly on Twitter, greatly enhanced by the existence of the hashtag. People use the hashtag throughout the year to talk to others in the community (and inadvertently to all of their followers outside of it) – to ask questions, to ask for help, to brag about successes, to make announcements, to exchange information, etc. People connected via #scio11 hashtag have found expert sources for writing their articles by using the hashtag, others have found jobs and gigs via this hashtag. It is supposed to be used all the time, almost by design.

  13. Thanks for the fucken linke, holmes! BTW, that fucken hand on your shoulder is freaking me the fucke oute!

  14. Coturnix says:

    One more note – all the Twitter numbers, including this cool analysis, are based on tweets made during the conference itself. The hastag is used throughout the year, and numbers (and stats) are different when looking at the entire year. Twapperkeeper is slow to pick up tweets and misses many, but at least saves the very old ones as well as the recent ones.

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  16. David Kroll says:

    Yup, understood – I get a bit melancholic when I see my friends away at various meetings, meet-ups, old haunting grounds. But during the meeting, I found it interesting to watch how certain points really resonated with folks within the sessions, sometimes those I wouldn’t have expected.

  17. David Kroll says:

    I found it useful to have some stuff in real time and then go back to it. Janet Stemwedel (@docfreeride) was great at doing this in a note-taking fashion. Very useful. Wish you were here – hope to meet you soon.

  18. David Kroll says:

    Steely, would’ve loved having you here for the music! However, I’d much prefer to come over to Glasgow!

    You and Grant Jacobs in New Zealand really took advantage of the opportunity to participate. Let us know if you post on your reflections of participating from afar.

  19. David Kroll says:

    Twitter in general is annoying and inclusive and useful…

    Very wise.

    I must also say that I feel like I’m drinking from a firehose when I’m at a society meeting as well – at least Twitter gives me a stream to consult later.

    Great to meet you in person!

  20. David Kroll says:

    Bora – post that!

  21. David Kroll says:

    Caitlin – you’re a cool kid no matter if you were here or not!

  22. David Kroll says:

    Tom, you don’t really have to click on every link. They’re just there in case you want the more detailed reference.

    Sleep? Bah. Hey, I have to earn my appointment to your program’s advisory board.

  23. David Kroll says:

    “ScienceOnline is a continuous online conference”

    Bora, EXACTLY! We actually had a followup year-long list following our MLK session in 2010. I forgot to do that this year. And yes, #scio11 ends up being as valuable and relevant as any LinkedIn networks could be!

  24. David Kroll says:

    Hey, PhysioBro! Thanks for giving us a good jumping off point for this related discussion. You should know that a couple of folks on Twitter pointed to your post as making many good points, even if they use Twitter themselves.

    As for the hand, that’s Ed Yong’s from last year’s meeting. It’s kind of a cosmic invocation to inspire me to channel Ed’s talent in every post I write. I lack the mad skillz to Photoshop it out.

  25. Haha! Well, I actually feel that way! I’m a regular chattering magpie in my “home” communities , but I doubt anyone outside would want the blow-by-blow, either.

    TL;DNR: I would probably have enjoyed a way to see session-focused tweets without the social stuff – a way to choose #scio-sesh over #scio-soc, if you will.

  26. El Picador says:

    Ed’s hand? Sure it is, “Gomez” Pharmboy, sure it is….

  27. What David said – many tweets were really useful records of sessions.

    I also found the tweets to be really inclusive, especially as someone who finds social settings that are not work-related a little challenging to navigate.

  28. I’m yet to get to ScienceOnline. I was close this year but timing was all wrong. Anyway the hashtag was both annoying and inclusive.

    While I was sitting at work watching the tweets about people getting on planes and checking into hotels it was annoying. I was basically jealous. When the tweets were about what was going on in and around sessions, I felt like I was there vicariously.

    There is nothing new in this. There are tons of Hashtagged messages that I either do or don’t want to see depending on what I’m doing or my general mood. Hashtags are being used completely appropriately, especially #scio11, but it would be sometimes nice to use them to filter stuff out, not just filter them in. Does anyone know of an application which I can use which will hide tweets bases on hastag?

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  30. Mike Spear says:

    I finally shut off the damned hashtag stream and relied on what was coming from the people I followed who were attending.
    By the time you were in endless discussions around what to wear, Lemurs, where’s the coffee and all the other stuff Twitter has become infamous for, it was just too much to handle.
    Sure there was some good information and useful links in there, but after a while separating out the useful from the banal was not worth the effort. Tweeting, re-tweeting, and tweeting again the latest in joke or gaff finally tipped me over the edge to the X button on Tweetdeck. ( BTW – Tweetdeck allows you to choose your hashtags and where on the screen to place them so you can check when you have the stamina, move it out of site, or hide it completely )

  31. Grant says:

    “It’s been a week and I still haven’t gotten my own reflections” about this article and topic up despite having seen it when first posted, and now my name being mentioned. (Where’d time go?)

    As David pointed out earlier I “attended” remotely. All I had was the twitter feed and the videos, sort-of. I say sort-of as the videos started streaming at 3am, local time. In practice I got more out of picking my way through the twitter feed at more sane hours. Kind-of unsurprising, huh? :-)

    My own views about the hashtag favour leaving it largely as it is. The flood of tweets is impossible to keep up with on-the-fly, but I’d rather one-tag covering the meeting, with additional keywords for additional filtering if people feel the need.

    I find it’s easy enough to spot who is covering a session well and just pay more attention to their tweets. It probably helped that I knew from last year to keep an eye out for Janet (@docfreeride) covering sessions :-) There’s pressure there, Janet… 😉

    (In hindsight I wished I’d remembered FF, but that’s hindsight for you and another topic.)

    It’s hilarious that hand is still getting attention. I can remember commenting on it ages ago! :-) I think I said something about David’s super-hero alter-ego being the rubber man to get his hand up there.

    I probably should write / have written an retrospective, as you suggest, but I suspect it wouldn’t be long, possibly just this comment with a few additional stray thoughts. (I do have a couple of posts up with tweets & a couple of loose thoughts on them; not very exciting stuff, I’m afraid.) Better rush off and add a note to my long-running earthquake thread; new aftershocks (I can tell just by noting visits to the article) and more coverage explaining them.

  32. Grant says:

    Well, not really a week, I’m exaggerating for effect 😉

    (Somehow this got missed. *Sigh*.)

  33. Pingback: Links – Jan 23, 2011 « C6-H12-O6