Live Microblogging: What I’m Learning

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m currently using Twitter to provide live coverage of many of the sessions at a seminar from the Knight Digital Media Center called Total Community Coverage in Cyberspace. You can check in anytime today or tomorrow for my three most recent posts on the top of the TCC blog, or follow me directly via Twitter.

I’m doing this largely as an experiment to explore how journalists (professional or amateur) can use microblogging tools like Twitter.

(Heads up: Obviously I won’t be Twittering during the 2-hour workshop I’m giving this afternoon: Connecting with “Communities of Difference”. Here are my online handouts for that, though.)

One important thing I’ve learned from this so far is that, at least for me, post frequency dictates process and mindset.

During sessions yesterday I posted VERY frequently — about once every 2-3 minutes on average. I found that when doing so many “tweets” (Twitter posts), I gave up on also trying to take notes conventionally. Twitter became my session notes — live and in public. Personally, I found that useful: I found I had to mentally tune in far more sharply to the “so what” of the presentations and discussions, since I knew that people anywhere might be reading my notes immediately. I even was more careful about typos than usual. It was an odd state of heightened awareness; I hadn’t realized how often I go on “mental autopilot” when I take notes.

Frankly, I like this approach. Too often when I take notes I focus on details and exact quotes, taken in my own personal idiosyncratic shorthand that’s utterly inscrutable to almost anyone else. This means that later on I’ll have to spend time cleaning up my notes and synthesizing the content so they’ll make sense to other people. Or, more likely, my notes with remain in raw form — of less use to me as well as little or no use to anyone else.

Because I’m focusing on synthesizing the “so what” immediately, my Twitter coverage includes few direct quotes — unless the speaker says something especially pithy or otherwise important enough to quote verbatim.

I’ve developed my own conventions to provide context about these tweets. For instance, I do a couple of tweets before the session starts giving the session title, presenter, and affiliation. Once the talk starts, I pick the presenter’s first or last name (whichever is shorter) and preface my synthesis of whatever they just said with that, followed by a colon.

For instance, yesterday I attended an excellent session on mobile TV. Here’s my pre-session setup post for that: “OK, break time. Next up: The Mobile World: The potential of the Ubiquitous Platform. Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, Univ. FL.”

Then, during the session, I prefaced everything Olmsted said with Sylvia: (here’s an example). I did not use quote marks in those tweets because I was paraphrasing the speaker, not quoting her.

During discussion in that session, I also kept the attendee list (speakers and fellows) handy and tried as best I could to identify speakers in a similar fashion. While all this probably wouldn’t mean much to someone randomly accessing a particular tweet in this stream, my hope is that it helped people following the action.

Most interestingly, through this experiment I find I’m actually starting to think in terms of 140-character bursts when I’m in reporter mode at these sessions. That is, I don’t find myself spending much time or effort to edit the text of each tweet to make it fit. I’m getting good at boiling down the “so what” of what just happened within Twitter’s posting character limit the first time around.

What do you think of this experiment? How could I improve the process? Have you tried something similar? How could this work in your coverage? Please comment below.

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