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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Friday, April 16, 2010

twittering a plenary

while I signed up for Twitter a while ago, I haven't really been a super active user. during the closing plenary at CHI 2010 (Noel Sharkey presenting about "Doing What's Right with Robots: An Ethical Appraisal"), I decided to try Twittering the event live and following others' tweets with #chi2010 (which, at the time of this posting, is largely focused around the efforts of Europeans to get home despite the Icelandic volcano eruption). I'll admit that I ended intended to go into snark mode (I mean, c'mon, robots and ethics? what was I supposed to expect?), but the talk turned out mostly pretty decent, so I ended striving more in the direction of thoughtful commentary. it was an interesting process, though it didn't really go very much as I had expected.

first, I was rather surprised that most of the tweets were pretty much restatements or summaries of high points in the talk. I suppose most people imagined (accurately or otherwise, I don't know) that the majority of their followers were not in the room, such that simply conveying the high points of the talk to those not present was valuable (apparently, the resulting stream was rather high quality). it's also possible that people were using their Twitter streams more as a means of taking notes for themselves than as a means of having a conversation with anyone. there were a couple who had some good insight (@ayman and @beki70 among them), many of which occurred around Sharkey's horrible handling of an important question about gender (he probably didn't realize that there'd been a presentation on Feminist HCI (paper)). I was rather amused by the couple times someone made a typo and wrote Shirkey instead of Sharkey, though the idea of the former giving a keynote on robots and ethics did make me laugh.

I was also interested to discover the existence of "fake" accounts for prominent researchers in the area, e.g., @clampefake, @fakeedchi, and @fakeedwardtufte. I didn't know these existed. not quite sure what people are/were doing with them and what the motivations are other than insinuating, tongue firmly placed in cheek, that Tufte goes on and on about embellishments (I kept waiting for the ghost Twitterer to link to Tufte's more violent side, but alas, s/he did not).

most surprising, though, is that I didn't feel like there were really that many tweets. maybe most folks were just paying more attention to the talk. maybe other people had been Twittering during the earlier talks and their batteries were all dead. maybe following #chi2010 would have been more useful during the other parallel sessions of the conference, when the simple reports of what speakers were saying in other rooms would have been valuable. it's hard to say, but I honestly expected to see many more tweets from a room of ~2000-something people.

ultimately, what was the value? I had expected some interesting and thoughtful insights from others, potentially leading to valuable discussions (in as much as Twitter can be a platform for discussion). and while there was some of that (as noted above), it was a little less than I expected. in contrast to Ed Chi's summary about the value of Twitter during conferences, the most useful thing for me ended up being (I think) the visibility, both in terms of getting a bunch of new followers (hi everyone, and thanks!) and finding new people to follow (hello to you, too!). again, not that it was bad (rather the opposite), it just wasn't exactly as I had expected.

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