Monday, September 10, 2007

Thing 35: Microblogging, or What Can You Do With 140 Characters?

Wow! I still haven't done a blog entry for Thing 35, Microblogging - meaning Twitter and Jaiku and Pownce, pretty much. So this'll be that entry, then, okay?

My initial reaction to microblogging, many moons ago, was a huge "huh? why?" sort of thing. Of what possible use could a blog entry of only 140 characters be? And who on Earth cares if you are wondering what to have for lunch?

But you know, it didn't take long before I saw some really good examples of how to use Twitter and the ilk. For example, there's Barack Obama (which would be better if someone in his campaign would figure out how to update from their cell phone so the feed could be absolutely current), the New York Times (which has feeds for each section too, like Books and Science) and BBCOne, which uses Twitter to notify viewers (or potential viewers) what's on telly. Stateside, The Dr. Phil Show has used Twitter to promote its new season.

I still can't see much reason to use Twitter for personal messages - if I'm arranging to meet someone, I'd use a direct text message or even, you know, an actual telephone call - but for promotion and for things you need to know right now, it's great! For breaking news, weather alerts, and other important stuff, I can't think of anything better. It could also make a fun distraction, maybe as a trivia game: The question is posted, then a few hours later you get the answer?

You may have noticed that all the "good examples" I posted above are from Twitter. Although I have accounts at both Jaiku and Pownce as well, it's harder to find good content on those services. Pownce operates more like an instant message service that lets you send messages to several people at once, IMHO. If there's a way to search or browse entries, I've yet to find it. Jaiku has some interesting participants (and some nice little icons you can add to a post), but I tend to find those when someone recommends them to me. (FakeSteveJobs was marginally interesting at first.) Only Twitter has an easy-to-find way to browse (and, finally, search) postings, which at Twitter are called Tweets. (Wait, I take that back. Here's the same thing on Jaiku. Sorry!)

I'd like to see a listing, somewhere, of the most-subscribed-to posters on all three services, out of curiosity and to make sure I'm not missing something.

Microblogging for libraries? I've got a list of ways we could use these tools:

  • Today's programs and events
  • Latest new book arrivals
  • "Got you interested" things, like that trivia contest or some of the great first lines of literature?
  • A contest for the best 140-character poem?
  • Answers to the 10 most-asked reference questions/reference question of the day
We need to be careful, though, not to microblog without reason. "Just to put something out there" isn't going to cut it. Our postings should be information that followers genuinely want, need or will at least find handy. We might want to take a page from the NYTimes handbook and have many microblogs - one for each branch, say, and even then not lump toddler story times in with news about the latest bestsellers. Create too many Tweets, and no one will be able to hear the bird song because they'll tune it out like background noise.

P.S. - BTW, I'm contributing to the background noise already. Of course I am.

    follow me on Twitter

    And, well, there's a Pownce one too, but I can't find a Pownce widget.

    I'm thinking about starting a Twitter feed - or maybe Jaiku? or both? - that's a Web 2.0 Site of the Day. What'd you think? The biggest problem is that I'd want to post it under a different Tweeter-poster name, which would mean logging out and logging back in, which means more passwords to remember.

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