UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Micro-blogging At Events

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Apr 2008


I can recall attending the UCISA 2004 conference and listening to a speaker describing the problems caused by providing free laser printing services to student. It seems students made heavy use of the service and this caused particular problems at the end of term: the print queues would be full, so students would resubmit jobs, compounding the problems.

But this is nothing new, I felt. I wanted to chat with my former manager at Loughborough University and ask him if we hadn’t addressed this problem back in the late 1980s. But he was near the front of the lecture theatre and I was near the back. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we could exploit the WiFi networks which were starting to appear, and have such discussions during a talk – this could help to improve the quality of the questions I felt.

Since then I have explored various ways of providing chat channels at events. At the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005 held at the University of Manchester we made use of an IRC channel – on which the small numbers of IRC users heard about the 7/7 London bombings prior to the rest of the audience: the logs of the IRC chat makes interesting reading from a historical perspective:

Jul 07 11:09:30 <SebastianRahtz>scary stuff with bombs. not impossible mchester next? ...
Jul 07 11:19:54 <AndrewSavory>Sebastian: Swindon and Brighton rail stations shut
Jul 07 11:19:59 <EmTonkin>oh
Jul 07 11:20:00 <AndrewSavory>all central london bus services stopped

Various chat tools were used at subsequent events, including Jabber and the Gabbly service. But since last year the term ‘micro-blogging’ has come into vogue and I’ve an interest in exploring the potential of Twitter in a conference setting, especially as I’ve been making regular use of Twitter for some time now.

Recent Experiments

My initial experiments took place when I attended the NDAP 2008 conference in Taiwan. However my use of Twitter (sometimes summarising individual slides) caused problems for my Twitter ‘followers’, some of whom commented that their Twitter client was full of my photos of my portrait when they logged on in the morning and others found that having my Tweets being delivered on their mobile phone resulted in a continual stream of SMS alerts.

Following a suggestion from James Clay, I then tried the Jaiku service. I’d tried this before, but this time I installed a dedicated Jaiku client and, with some help from James, set up the #ndap2008 channel which was dedicated to the conference. However, despite its richness as a micro-blogging and aggregation tool, Jaiku hasn’t really taken off – and as the most important aspect of a social networking tool is the social network, I reluctantly decided that Jaiku wouldn’t be the tool to use.

The Social Dimension Of Micro-Blogging At Events

The fact that the numbers of posts (tweets) I sent on the first day of he NDAP 2008 conference irritated a couple of my Twitter followers is a good indicator of the social aspect of micro-blogging. And although I’ve concluded that it’s not the best tool for summarising individual points for a series of talks I have found that it can provide social benefits. After the conference had finished and on my last night in Taipei I tweeted that I was about to head off for a meal. A few minutes later I received a phone call from Casey Bisson, a fellow speaker at the conference. He’d spotted my tweet and suggested we go out for a meal. Which we did, and found a German restaurant where we found sausages and dark German beer made a refreshing change from the Chinese meals we’d been eating.

And then arriving at Montreal I tweeted a few minutes after arriving at the hotel that I was about to go out for a meal. A few minutes later I received a series of suggestions for how I should spend my time in Montreal:

Twitter posts

And a few minutes later another Twitterer pointed out a post on the conference forum aimed at “Beer Geeks in Montreal“:
Twitter posts

From this I’ve learnt about the serendipitous benefits Twitter can provide. If I say where I am and what I’d like to do, people are willing to help :-) And this, of course, fits in nicely with the social aspect of conferences – it’s not all about listening to talks.

Micro-Blogs At The Museums and The Web Conference

These reflections are very relevant to the Museums and the Web 2008 conference I am currently attending. Mike Ellis (with whom I am running two sessions at the conference) is providing the technical infrastructure for aggregating blog posts, Flickr feeds, etc. related to the conference. Mike is currently finalising these technologies, which includes an aggregation of posts on the home page and, something I’ve not seen before, a timeline of Twitter posts with the #mw2008 tag.

Twitter Timeline

It is really interesting to see how the use of networked technologies at events is evolving. Initially we were using self-containing instant messaging tools, but we’re now using tools, such as Twitter, which, when used in conjunction with RSS feeds and agreed tags (#mw2008 in this case) allows the content to be reused in a variety of different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment works.

10 Responses to “Micro-blogging At Events”

  1. A nice twitter client feature would be to filter out posts with a specific hashtag – so I could ignore twitters from a specific conference if it was all too much (for example when several people I follow were at OR08).

    I guess one alternative is setting up a ‘one time’ Twitter account for the conference rather than doing it on your own account (although this would miss existing connections, it is likely that someone interested in the conference would find you via the hashtag or just keyword searching)

    The hashtag timeline looks interesting – it would be a good add to an application like which does a nice job of threading Twitter conversations (and allows some correction of mis-threaded conversations)

    I have to admit with OR08 I started to get a bit overwhelmed by the number of places I could virtually follow the conference (I wasn’t there physically) with IRC, Twitters, blogs etc. – and I think I’m pretty good at this kind of multichannel management. At this stage I think proliferation is a good thing, but to maximise the effectiveness of the channel and ‘network’ effect, I think we will need to see some concentration on specific services.

    I was interested to see that you didn’t mention your (and others) experiments with I found this interesting, but was put off by the fact it didn’t ‘feed’ anywhere – it seems to be completely self-contained (although this could be a strength as well I guess).

    Finally just to mention that an area of comparison would be with media covering ‘events’ live – but less conferences, and more sports and TV events. The Guardian does a ‘live blog’ of The Apprentice each week (, and I’ve enjoyed reading along as I’ve watched – but the format is really irritating – I keep having to refresh the page to get the latest post additions and comments. As I was watching this week, I noticed that one of my followees on Twitter was also watching and commenting on Twitter – and thought this was much more consumable format than the Guardian’s blog…

  2. Hi James – I meant to mention my experiments with The problems I found with that service were (a) it was too hierarchical (I needed to give permissions to others if their comments where to be made public and (b) the lack of RSS feeds meant that the posts could not be reused elsewhere.

  3. James Clay said

    It’s so true about Jaiku, I love the functionality and the richness, however all the e-learning (in HE) people I know are on Twitter, so I twitter with them – as I did today at JISC RSC SW HE conference.

    I have however quite a community on Jaiku so I use that as well, this community is in the main FE.

    Regardless of which service you use you are right Brian, it is the community which counts, and it is YOUR community which in the end enables a user to decide which service to choose.

    I didn’t think much of coveritlive either especially as you say no RSS feed.


  4. With the emerging of social networking and micro-blogging technology, more and more people have found it “convenient” to use such technologies especially in conferences and such. Quotes on convenient are placed because not everyone will be too keen on receiving posts which are somehow irrelevant.

  5. FWIW practically everyone who uses twitter in our team stopped following you during your NDAP 2008 twitterrhea.

  6. Hi Phil – Thanks for the feedback – I’m aware of this. I’ve been looking at alternatives (Jaiku looks promising) but there’s a need for something which one’s community will use. It would be good to chat about options for IWMW 2008 – The Raven, perhaps?

  7. […] Perhaps the very busiest part of the conference was the one that I almost completely missed. If Owen Stephens’ experience of the conference was anything to go by (and this was someone who wasn’t even at the conference), then all the ‘amplification’ that was going on was perhaps a bit too much! […]

  8. Microblogging also represents the growing lack of concentration in the age of information overload.

  9. […] sociaux (11/04/08) – Micro-blogging At Events (source: UK Web Focus, […]

  10. […] until I came across a blog post in which I described how I had made intensive use of Twitter whilst attending the Museums and the Web 2008 conference.  It seems that, perhaps due to a glitch in Twitter or Tweetstats, no usage had been detected for […]

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