Why twitter matters (for Tim).

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Tim was the best man at my wedding. He was my friend before I had any others. He was the one who helped me to understand IRC and modem speeds. He was the one who made being geeky okay. Anyway, this post is for him because he is intrigued by my use of Twitter and other connection tools in the world of education. He is also a generally curious person, and when I decided to come to his city for a certain conference hosted by a certain school all based upon the connections in my Twitter network, Tim decided it was too much. So, he joined up today.

Now, it is my job to tell him why he has made a good choice, and how perhaps he can even use Twitter to the benefit of his own scholarly pursuits (he is a PHD cantidate at UPenn for Mathematics). Well, here goes:

Even though Tim has already decided to take the plunge, I still think it is a good idea to talk about why twitter is not a total waste of his time, and why it is worth the time it takes to build a new network even though he has a vibrant Facebook presence and he seems to have quite a bit going for him in the world of academia

Here is a nice little story about how twitter was born. – It is always nice to know just how something begins and why it begins too.

Here is a really great piece on what twitter can do for musicians and the rest of us. – I really like this piece because of just how many different ways that twitter has influenced the lives of the musicians and other people in the article.

Here are some personal reflections on why twitter makes sense to use for learning – Although this is a small sample, Tom Barret, puts together a pretty compelling reason for using twitter to learn as an adult.

Now, as many of you know, I don’t like to talk too much about the tools, but seeing as how I have a special assignment today, I figure I will have to from time to time.

Now that you are on twitter, you will need some voices to listen to.

I recommend using a few different tools in order to figure out which voices you are interested in:

  • Tweetgrid or Tweetdeck – These two tools let you monitor the conversation on any topic that you choose. All you have to do is type in a Hashtag (a tag that starts with #) or a keyword. Tweetgrid is a web application and Tweetdeck is adobe air app. Once you find someone that is saying something interesting, follow them so that you can listen to what they are saying even when they are not talking about that given topic. These tools are also the best way to follow a conference or event.
  • Twellow – This site, although ugly, is incredibly helpful at finding people who are interested in what you are interested in. It is basically a sophisticated twitter people search.
  • Liz Davis List of Educators on Twitter or Jane Hart’s Directory of Learning Professionals on Twitter or the Twitter 4 Teachers Wiki– These three lists are pretty exhaustive and at least the list from Liz can be sorted to fit your own needs. The Wiki is well sorted and has every different type of user I could think of accounted for.

Once you have a least a few people that you are following, you will want to hone your network to make sure that you are not missing out on voices that are influential or are startling. Here are few more resources to do that trick:

  • Who Should I follow?– This analyzes your current friends and makes sure that you are listening to people that are relevent and close to you (geographically).
  • Mr. Tweet – Mr. Tweet is single-handedly responsible for growing the readership of the readership of the edublogosphere many times over. A great resource, but don’t get suckered into following too many people.
  • Friend or Follow – Once you have a lot of people to follow as well as people who are following you back, you will want to see just how far the reciprication goes. This service allows you to see just how popular you are with the people who you find interesting.

Once you have a network of people that you want to listen to and you have a general voice for what you would like to talk about, you need to start tweeting and holding conversations.

  • Dial2Do – Tweet by calling a phone number and speaking.
  • Tweetree – Look at the conversations on twitter as threaded discussions, including media (photos, videos, etc.)
  • Tweet.im – Tweet through your instant messenger client.
  • Posterous – Tweet via your e-mail.
  • Twhirl – This is still my favorite twitter client for tweeting and receiving updates. Because I need something to come and hit me over the head with updates from time to time, the fact that it pops up in the bottom right corner when one of my friends has said something is a really big plus for me.

How do you extend your twitter network into the other stuff that you are already doing?

  • Friendfeed – Tie Twitter and all of your other social networks together.
  • Twitter Search – This will allow you to create rss feeds of searches that you would like to be updated on at all times. In practice, I like to have a few of these rss feeds going directly into my google reader so that I can stay up on topics even if I miss things while I am away from twitter.

More than anything, Tim, twitter is about listening for me. As much as I want to be a part of the conversation and engage others. Twitter is about listening to the voices around me and trying to soak up all of the information I can and learn from the network. I say and contribute enough to never be accused of lurking, but I know that my value is in putting pieces together, not in being the first to tweet out a story.

As I am reflecting upon my two years on Twitter, I would say that more than anything else I have learned how to have good conversations, learned how to create community, and learned that posting to twitter about the birth of your second child is just awesome.

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