Blogging, tweeting and conferences

A post by Chris RowanThe Geological Society of America’s annual meeting starts tomorrow, and as Kim has already explained, the conference is actively encouraging geobloggers and geotweeters to report from the meeting. Since I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic and thus unable to attend in person, I’ll get the opportunity to see just how much you can get out of a meeting through these media. As a warm up, I’m asking: what is the most effective way of blogging/tweeting a conference? Does an effective way actually exist?
I have myself done a bit of conference blogging. With one (prompted) exception, I’ve eschewed true ‘liveblogging’ – writing up conference sessions on the fly – because the demands of producing legible prose – or, at least, prose that my pedantic inner copy-editor is happy publishing – distracts me too much from actually following the presentations. However, I have attempted – and found useful – writing posts that summarise a day’s sessions. For the Science Online London conference, I experimented with live-tweeting: I found that the 140 character limit was actually a boon, as it forced a healthy balance between listening and typing, and the need to be succinct led to a useful set of notes when I wrote up my response on the train home the next day.
It has occurred to me, though, that my liveblogging endeavours thus far have been, for want of a better word, selfish. The exercise has some value to me, by helping to organise and preserve my thoughts and impressions of the talks that I attended. But I’m not sure how useful it is for a wider audience; does putting my musings online rather than in my notebook give other people a flavour of a conference? Does it highlight the talks that made waves, draw attention to the most cutting edge debates?
Based on my experience at the Science Online conferences, my feeling is that there is a critical mass issue here. If you only have a couple of people at a conference on Twitter, then all you get is a few isolated thoughts which are hard to put into context. If you have 50 people tweeting, however, then the social, crowdsourcing strengths of Web 2.0 (or whatever version we’re up to now) may start to become more apparent: observers both inside and outside the conference might start to get a sense of which sessions are proving to be interesting, and attendees who share interests and opinions may even have their attention drawn to each other, catalysing new discussions and collaborations. Likewise, if more people actually at the conference are aware of, and reading, what is being blogged about a particular session, then more might be motivated to contribute their own views and perspectives in the form of comments or other blog posts, which not only leads to the discussions that inevitably bubble around the main presentations being more integrated and coherent, but will also preserve them and make them available to a later, wider audience (I’ve wondered before if Google Wave might have an impact in this area).
Hopefully, you lot will provide your own perspectives on good approaches to blogging or tweeting or friendfeeding or social-application-of-the-month-ing conferences, both in terms of producing commentary and consuming it. What works for you? What is just meaningless noise? Perhaps you can also join me in observing the blogging and tweeting emerging from GSA over the next few days, and use that as fuel for further discussion.

Categories: academic life, conferences, public science
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Comments (4)

  1. Bob O'H says:

    I enjoyed your contributions to the Science Online London tweetfest. I agree about critical mass, but it only needs 3 or 4 people in a session to get an idea of what’s going on. particularly if they’re as good about updating as Martin Fenner, for example. At the NC meeting, I found myself in the wrong session, and relied on martin to update me about the session I should have gone to.
    The problem I have with tweeting (as I’m not alone) is the lack of threading – Friendfeed is much better that way. Of course, Google wave will some this problem, in between curing AIDS and making Budweiser drinkable.

  2. DNLee says:

    I blogged and tweeted a conference recently – International Ethological Conference. I used tweets to repeatcool phrases I heard on the fly. But mostly I recapped talks at the end of the day. I found that more useful. I’m sure I didn’t get a lot of attention from my tweets and friendfeeds. I was the only SM person there – so there wasn’t much buzz to follow my tweets. I think my recaps were better enjoyed – plus there was a bog time difference (conference was in France, I’m from the States) so twitter/friendfeed wasn’t likely to be on my labmates radar.

  3. Robert says:

    Chris if I may ask a question, I have been trying to follow some of your blogs and in the past, the wonderful piece on pole reversal, my question is….during the wandering of the poles and the breakdown into quad and oct poles, wouldn’t the new iron deposited from the expansion point to the new pole locations instead of true north or true south? As the poles shift the “angle” of the iron as it cooled would direct the way to the last known pole location.

  4. Chris Rowan says:

    Just for future reference, I’m not generally in the habit of indulging comments which aren’t related to the subject of a post, but the short answer is yes: rocks formed during reversals have magnetisations which deviate markedly from the average (geographic pole-centred) directions of the rocks stratigraphically above and below.
    However, since the time involved is quite short geologically, sequences with a high enough deposition rate to resolve a reversal in detail are quite rare and highly prized.