One Thing I Don't Like About Twitter

By Dennis D. McDonald

I’ve already written positively about my use of Twitter (e.g., see Twitter, Vernor Vinge, and Homeland Security and My Personal Twitter Rules So Far). Here I write about a pet peeve: the popular practice of reporting on conference sessions via Twitter.

In theory, twittering conference sessions should be a good thing. Not everyone can afford to attend conferences, twittering offers the conference promoters and the presenters with a “free” method for extending their reach and brand, and tools and tricks are available to technically knowledgeable folks for aggregating Twitter messages.

Problem is, the quality of the messages that are posted varies substantially by the ability of the poster to think and type at the same time. Some might say that the discipline of limiting messages to 140 characters is A Good Thing. What frequently emerges, though, is a disjointed series of messages that, more often than not, fails to communicate the complex content the speaker is presenting.

Given the choice between a realtime but disjointed series of messages created on the fly that may or may not represent the actual thoughts and deeper messages of presenters, and a later written article that is based on some thought and reflection, I’ll take the article over Twitter immediacy.

The bottom line for me is that I want to make good use of my time. Spending continuous partial attention on potentially multiple disjointed messages, then assembling them mentally in order to guess at the real message of the speaker, seems counterproductive to me. What comes to mind is that I’m being exposed via Twitter to a disjointed set of PowerPoint bullet points, but without the benefit of seeing or hearing the speaker’s tone, gestures, facial expressions — or intent.

Perhaps one could make the “a half a loaf is better than none” argument, but I don’t think so. If I can’t attend a conference, I’ll wait till my trusted group of reporters, bloggers, and journalists have a say.


Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald

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Reader Comments (5)

I have also noticed the lack of value sometimes provided by live tweeting a conference. One issue I have noticed is that I follow groups of people that have things in common. When there is a conference aimed at that group and several people I follow attend, I end up with multiple entires on the same event.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCesar Diaz
I agree with you and have just discovered, where you can "snooze" someone for a day or so, if they are annoying you with conference commentary. I do, however, think Twitter is great if you are actually at the conference, and can connect with people experiencing the same things you are (or moving from room to room, or meeting up for lunch, or whatever). I guess what I am saying is that I think the use of Twitter as a CONFERENCE micro-blog is not necessarily as good as it sounds, but using it as a textmob is much more valuable.
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaddie Grant
I first played with live-microblogging at the 13th Annual Instructional Technology conference here in Nashville - see post at

The event had a twitter address but only a handful of us followed and the best we could do was show communication on the LCD projector. I think perhaps live mblogging would be best done by a dedicated twitter account that few if any actually follow but an aggregator could combine on the fly.

I'm thinking something like Tweetscan -

follow me @carterfsmith (
May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarter F Smith
good theme. a few thoughts I've had:
- having a number of people twittering can give an interesting real time overview. e.g., from our event in Santa Fe last month -
- when a number of people tweet the same thing you get a feeling for "intensity" that can be hard to get from other forms
- some people (read @acarvin) are really good at it. i was blown away by him live tweeting Leonsis -

now, does anyone know a good way to archive a series of tweets? preferably ordered from first to last
May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDave Witzel
To all: this has been an enlightening series of comments. I think it is useful to view "conference session twittering" from several perspectives.

The first perspective is whether the twittering provides an accurate representation of what is happening and being communicated at the session. Where I was coming from when I wrote this post was, first and foremost, whether I can get an accurate representation from a disjointed set of tweets. Whether I really know the reporter or not could come into play here -- i.e., I know what to expect from people I know -- but I am still at the mercy of his/her ability to represent what is being communicated. (Since I know how hard it is to take good notes and concentrate at the same time on a speaker, I am transferring some of this experience, too.)

A second perspective, which I didn't really consider, is that group twittering about a presentation, when followed by another group of people, is generating an extended and temporary "community" around that conference presentation. It may be a very tenuous community given the delays inherent in when people read a stream of tweets form a particular person, but it does suggest a different and extended definition of the concept of "audience." More people can experience -- to some degree -- the conference session, and one could argue the merits of that. (I still have a problem with the accuracy issue, but I know that defining "accuracy" could get us into hot philosophical water here.)

A third perspective is the tool perspective. Several people have mentioned the availability of software (client or remotely hosted) that can help with aggregating or organizing tweets so as to make a topic- or session-related group of tweets more useful or accessible. I admit I haven't really gone into using other toolsets yet with Twitter since I prefer the simplicity of understanding the potential of the tool as its stands by itself. (I also admit that I am a bit concerned that Twitter itself has enough platform reliability issues to deal with; adding another uncertain application on top doesn't fill me with confidence!)
May 2, 2008 | Registered CommenterDennis D. McDonald

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