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Gap Analysis: They Tweeted At #online10 But Not At #scl10

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 December 2010

Twitter Was Popular at #Online10

Last week I attended the Online Information 2010 conference, held at Olympia in London on 30 November – 2 December.  Unfortunately due to other commitments I could only attend on the first day.  But I was able to get a feel for the discussions on the next two days by watching the #online10 column in my Tweetdeck Twitter client – and I was able to do this during what would otherwise have been unproductive times such as standing on an overcrowded bus going to work.

At the time of writing Summarizr informs me that there have been 4,342 tweets from Twitter 1,022 users. This evidence suggests that Twitter had an important role to play at the conference, enabling those users to take part in discussions centred around the various talks presented at the conference as well as enabling conference delegates to cultivate and develop professional relationships. Without Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have met @Ankix and, over a meal and a few pints in the Warwick Arms with longstanding Twitter colleagues @karenblakeman@hazelh and @akenyg and @stephanbuettner, another new contact, shared experiences of the implications of the cuts across the library sector in the UK, Sweden and Germany.

Little Use of Twitter at #SCL2010

On the same day that I gave a talk at Online Information I was also presenting a pre-recorded video at the Scholarly Communication Landscape: Opportunities and challenges symposium which was held at Manchester Conference Centre, Manchester. For this one-day conference Summarizr informs us that there had been only 38 tweets from 6 Twitter users, but only my colleague Stephanie Taylor (who was supporting my video presentation) and Kevin Ashley, DCC Director  and speaker at the symposium) tweeted more than once. So whilst the far fewer numbers of tweets for this symposium will be due in part to it being a smaller event, running for a single day, the lack of any participation from the audience is, I feel, interesting.

The page about the event informs us that the symposium aims to “investigate the opportunities and challenges presented by the technological, financial and social developments that are transforming scholarly communication” with the programme going to add that “Online social networks are playing an increasingly important role in scholarly communication. These virtual communities are bringing together geographically dispersed researchers to create an entirely new way of doing research and creating scholarly work.

Quite.  But this one-day event, which was open to all staff and postgraduate research students at the University of Manchester, seems to have been unsuccessful in providing an opportunity for participants to try out for themselves Twitter,  an example of a popular online social network which is playing an increasingly important role in scholarly communication, as we saw from the evidence of its use at the Online Information 2010 conference. But rather than point out what the non-users of Twitter may have been missing (such as the active learning and the community engagement which I described above) it might be more interesting to reflect on the more general issues of how non-users of a service can be identified and how one might gain feedback from non-users of a service.

Gap Analysis

Getting feedback from users of a service can be easy – you know who they are and you will often have communications channel with them in which you can invite feedback. But getting feedback from non-users can be much more difficult – although such feedback can be immensely value in understanding reasons why a service isn’t being used and ensuring that enthusiast users don’t give a misleading impression of the benefits.

It might be useful to speculate why services aren’t being used.  Possible reasons for the  lack of Twitter use by the audience at the Scholarly Communication Landscape  symposium could be:

  • Technology problems: lack of or problems with a WiFi network could be responsible for a lack of event-related tweets.
  • Technology limitations: Potential Twitter users may feel that use of a Twitter client at an event is too complex.
  • It’s trivial: Twitter might be regarded as a trivial activity.
  • It’s rude: Use of Twitter at an event might be regarded as being rude and inconsiderate to other participants and to the speakers
  • Personal/profession balance: Twitter users may use it for personal rather than professional purposes.
  • Failure to see relevance: Participants may fail to see the benefits of use of Twitter at events.
  • Relevance not applicable: Participants may appreciate potential benefits of use of Twitter at events but feel such benefits are not applicable for them.
  • Style of working: Use of Twitter (or networked technologies) may not be relevant to personal styles of working.
  • Organisational culture: managers or others in the organisation may frown on such usage.

These are some of my thoughts on why Twitter might not have been used at the symposium, and you may be able to provide additional suggestions.  But how do we find out the real reasons as opposed to our speculations?  And how do we apply approaches for gap analysis to other areas besides use of Twitter? For example, in light of the subject areas which may have been covered at the event, how could we gauge views on the areas such as openness and institutional repositories? How can we gather evidence in order to inform policies on, say, deployment and use of new services or approaches?

Increasingly I’m beginning to think that these type of events should be much more than dissemination channels and provide feedback mechanisms to provide responses, enable aggregated views to be analysed, etc. For an event aimed at staff and postgraduate research students at an institution, such as the Scholarly Communication Landscape symposium which was open to all staff and postgraduate research students at the University of Manchester it would seem that there was an ideal opportunity to gain feedback on the opportunities and challenges in the areas of scholarly communications. And those opportunities and challenges will be shared by many others in the higher education sector.

My concluding thoughts:  events can provide a valuable opportunity for gathering feedback and comments on the areas addressed at the event. There is an opportunity to gather such feedback  using simple technologies which may be very costly to gather in other ways. Open sharing of such feedback can be beneficial to the wider community.  So let’s do it.

Or to provide a more tangible example.  One could ask an audience from one’s host institution if they would be interested in using an communications tool such as Twitter or Yammer to support work activities. Or perhaps whether staff would be willing to make their professional outputs available under a Creative Commons licence.  An example of how this might be approached is given below.

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