One of the recent meetings of our Systems Biology center was devoted to social media and related things, about half of which dealt with Twitter. I’ve generally been confused by twitter — I can’t see why anyone would want to drown in a flood of short, superficial messages, or why anyone would expect an audience for their snippets of thoughts. At our meeting, though, I realized a potentially useful role for Twitter that other people are employing: having it serve as a sort of continuous search-results feed. Monitoring some particular tag, e.g. “#microbiome,” gives a stream of tweets people are sending that note this. If the tweets contain links to papers, web sites, etc., one can find and connect to the source material.
Being curious about this, I decided to experiment. I set up a Twitter account a few days ago, with the idea of tweeting announcements of some subset of new posts to this blog, and of some old blog posts, to see if there’s a noticeable direction of readers to this site from Twitter. (WordPress keeps track of this.) We’ll see what happens!
Setting up the Twitter account itself was interesting. One is required to follow ten other groups or people to set up the account. Ignoring Twitter’s suggestions of People magazine, professional athletes, etc., took some thought.
One use of Twitter that was put forth at our meeting was following journal article announcements, so I signed on to follow Nature Methods. Now, seeing a list of Nature Methods tweets, I can’t see what the appeal of this is. The normal emailed Table of Contents I get contains all this information in a more concise form every week (one email), with links to abstracts, PDFs, full text, etc. Chopping it up into a dozen little tweets seems silly.
Asking myself, “what people should I follow so Twitter will let me set up this account?” I thought of writers I like, and so followed Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco (despite not liking his last few books), and Margaret Atwood. Eco, it seems, hasn’t tweeted anything since February. Atwood seems prolific, so much so that she retweets photos of cats, or specifically, “how to look like Batman, using your cat.” I cannot bring myself to provide the link, or to insert the picture. Here is a very quick sketch: