Conferences all atwitter, but are we speeding public ridicule?

Mar 14 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

While I still have not joined twitter, the meeting I am at is being live twittered but both audience members and one of the organizers. Being curious, I've been watching the hashtag to get a better feel for how this works. So far it's been "meh".

One thing that did catch my eye, however, was the activity around one of the presentations in which the speaker tried a joke that fell fairly flat. While I am not familiar with most of the people here, I get the impression that the speaker was well known and some good natured jibes lit up the twitter feed. I am assuming that it was "all in good fun", but without knowing the players I can only guess based on the content.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. There's no question that these types pf conversation happen at meetings and likely that those giving the speaker a ribbing on twitter would do so in person at the next break, but I can't help but feel slightly unnerved about the fact that it is in an archived public forum this way. Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, but it seems that the opportunity for things to be taken the wrong way or snowball into something larger than the original intent as the person was giving their knee-jerk wittiest possible 140 character take on the proceedings, makes the medium even less appealing. Obviously it is up to the tweeter (twit?) to be conscious of misinterpretation, but I think there is ample evidence that many are incapable or uninterested in applying said filter.

I can see value in live-blogging a meeting and providing some interpretational value to the presentations as a useful exercise and I could even understand the usefulness of following the twitter stream for a conference one can not attend, but I still find myself uncomfortable with the immediacy of twitter and the lack of apparent digestion and context.

Perhaps I'm just taking the first steps down my inevitable path to grumpy old man. Now get offa my lawn!

13 responses so far

  • lylebot says:

    I was once at a conference that was projecting its Twitter feed on the wall next to every presentation. People generally behaved, but there was one pseudonymous Twit (with 0 followers and 0 following) making a lot of snarky comments. While it may have been all in good fun if people knew who it was (and among people that knew each other well), with the pseudonymity it came across as sort of nasty.

    They stopped projecting the feed on the second day. No one in my social circles ever found out who it was.

  • Stacey says:

    I just covered a conference that had a Twitter feed - what I found interesting (and a little dismaying) is that during the open discussion periods, people were more likely to voice an opinion as a Tweet than out loud, which basically defeated the purpose of the discussion, since not everyone in the room was following it in real time or were even on Twitter in the first place. It was like 10 people in the room were whispering to each other, even though they weren't sitting anywhere near one another. I decided to capture the entire Twitter feed, just so that I could include it in my report as a sidebar.

  • CoR says:

    This is one of the benefits of a pseud while blogging or twittering -- you can be non-funny and how much does it really matter at the end of the day?

    What you are experiencing here tho is something that would make me uncomfortable. I might start my talks with a statement about how I would appreciate hearing comments rather than reading them later -- the use of twitter in this way seems kind of back handed.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    I personally love the live tweeting. Most meetings I go to include numerous simultaneous sessions, and the live feed lets me see "what else" is going on. Occasionally I have chosen a session that wasn't what I thought it would be. Live tweets have pointed me to another lively session that I otherwise might not have considered catching, at least in part.

    An Science Online without twitter? Can't imagine it.

  • Dr. O says:

    I haven't followed any meetings with Twitter yet, since none of my regular meetings have taken part (at least not that I'm aware of). Since I tweet pseudonymously, I would be resistant to saying anything about a highly field-specific meeting. There are other uses for Twitter, though (IMO). It just depends on what you decide to get out of it.

  • Charity says:

    I find it interesting that the criticism of twitter and how things might be interpreted through twitter is stated by someone who is not on twitter and thus may not have that great of a sense of the community.
    I have live tweeted several meetings, which has helped me find about what was going on in other sessions I wanted to attend but couldn't be simultaneously present in ea. room. I am sure some people misuse twitter, just as some people will misuse any tool available. That does not negate the positive impacts of twitter on meetings.
    I have found twitter has allowed me to vastly expand my social network and have discussions with people I other wise wouldn't have known. It has provided me with a vast array of resources that many people don't have and has allowed me to set up meetings with people in real life that have advanced my science.
    Maybe the author should consider giving twitter a go before writing off it's value?

  • fcs says:

    In my field they call this "conference back channel / chatter". Sometimes it has been put to good use - for example, gathering questions for the plenary speaker so a mic doesn't have to make its way around 700 people. But at other conferences I've heard stories of how it's used to trash talk the speakers.

    So, I'm still kind of on the fence about it.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Charity, maybe you should read the post before assuming the intent of the author. I am not writing off the value of twitter at all, merely demonstrating why it might have unintended effects at a meeting. I completely agree that any tool has the potential for abuse and much of the benefit is in how it is utilized. Nevertheless, part of what makes me uncomfortable about the immediacy of the medium is that I think room for misinterpretation of comments of greater than media that can provide more context.

  • One of the many things that suckes fucken asse about Twitter twittering is that once you've impulsively twitted some shitte, it doesn't go away. This is in contrast to the real twittering that goes on in audiences, which goes away and remains only to the extent it sticks in the memories of anyone who hears it. This kind of shitte *should* be ephemeral, and logging for infinity on the Internet is fucken stupid.

  • Dr. O says:

    So is blogging.

  • I think tweets evaporate after a week or so (I guess
    Twitter's memory banks fill up). So the record is
    short-lived.

  • For someone who refuses to tweet, you sure do have a lot of opinions about the damn technology.

    The study reported in the blog entry linked to below (how is that for the potential for widespread gossip and longevity) says that if a tweet isn't responded to within the first hour, it probably never will be. Add to that the fact that71% of all tweets elicit NO reaction whatsoever and one really doesn't have to worry about the twits who tweet in a vengeful fashion.

    Nevermind the fact that backbiting in a professional circle (sans Twitter) has a much higher chance of damaging a persons (speakers) reputation and standing than some anonymous tweet by a twit.

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/the_short_lifespan_of_a_tweet_retweets_only_happen.php

  • antipodean says:

    Someone who twitters is known as a 'twat'

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