Libraries and the twitterverse (p.1 of who knows how many)

This series of posts, as you may have guessed from the cunning title, is about the use of Twitter in libraries. I’m not going to focus on any particular sector rather I’m going to blog about the best examples of Twitter use in libraries from across the world, why it’s important and what they tweet about. This first entry however is a gentle introduction to Twitter for those among you who have been living on Mars, or Norwich (kidding) for the past 5 years.

Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ site. So where as here I’m effectively ‘macro’ blogging on Twitter there is a character limit of 147 characters so you have to be short and to the point in your Tweets (which is the name for a micro-blog entry). People can Tweet about anything however random (and there are some very random things on Twitter) and their Tweets are seen by whoever follows them. The more people who follow you the more coverage your Tweet will have and vise versa if you follow more you’ll see more Tweets on your homepage.

Aside from being popular there are several tools you can use to make your Tweets more widely known. Firstly you can re-Tweet other people’s Tweets which will appear on the pages of people who follow and likewise other people can re-Tweet your Tweets. Secondly you can use ‘hashtags’ to make your Tweets appear in trends and searches. So if you were Tweeting against closures to public libraries you could put #savelibraries in your Tweet. This hashtag recently trended worldwide in the course of one day.

Trends are fairly self explanatory – Twitter will note when a certain number of Tweets have included the same hashtag which then appears in the ‘trending’ column on the homepage. The trending facility has been described by Twitter creator Biz Stone as “a discovery engine for what’s happening now”. Finally you can also reply to people’s Tweets which will then show up on their page and allow others to see it.

Twitter is also a social networking site, like Facebook. A social network “is a website which allows users to communicate directly with each other on topics of mutual interest”. However one of the main differences in Twitter compared to Facebook is in its usage. Whereas Facebook is generally used by people to find friends that they know in ‘real’ life Twitter is more about following people you don’t know. In fact I would say Twitter is about opinion whereas Facebook is about people. This distinction has been noted in books like ‘The Little Book of Twitter: Get Tweetwise!’ (Collins 2009) which covers what could be described as Twitter etiquette.

So there you go – a crash course in Twitter. The next entry will actually get round to looking at our subject: Twitter use in libraries. Tune in next time.

Picture source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/17/twitter-support-libraries-worldwide

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