I cannot say that I am completely convinced Twitter has specific library applications, it does have very excellent librarian applications. I can attest to this, as a librarian who loves using Twitter. Like regular blogging, microblogging is most effective when there is an individual you appreciate behind the wysiwyg.
That does not mean people do not have interesting ideas about how it could be used. And certainly, some libraries are using it. Still, as I’ve said about the Facebook universe, I strongly feel that we need to come up with tidy, professional-looking ways of using the technology before we deem it important. I am not putting libraries using Twitter down — in fact, I think they are laying the foundations for the future of the service. I also believe that innovation comes from doing, rather than conjecturing. However, we need an empirical understanding of what Twitter is, how it can be most effectively applied to libraries, and, most importantly, we need to have an honest look at what real success is in this realm.
So here are the things I notice about the Twitterverse, as an experienced user and some thoughts about why these things matter to libraries.
- I ignore most promotions of all kinds.
Description: I had a few “friends” that do little more than send me links of promotions. The only exception to this rule so far is LISNews, but there are two mitigating factors 1) Blake “friended” me first and 2) I still see the Twitter link as Blake letting me know what’s going on, not as a promotion for the LISNews blog. Even so, what I see in links from LISNews in my Twitter account, I more commonly read from Google Reader anyway.
What Libraries Should Think About: Promotion appears to be the main purpose for libraries using Twitter, but mere promotions of programs are not going to be that successful in the end. If you are going to promote via Twitter, there’s got to be some social goodness there. It has to be fun; it has to be unique; it has to bring more value to me than my tick is bringing to your quantitative success measure.
- I’m mostly using it from a browser.
Description: Jeremiah Owyang confirmed this a little more empirically. I mostly view Twitter from a website. Sidebars and cellphones don’t cut it for me right yet.
What Libraries Should Think About: Dreaming about accessing the mobile market through twitter is probably a bit optimistic right now. You may get some, but not a whole lot.
- It’s great as a more disposable yet friendlier version of del.icio.us.
Description: I use delicious alot for bookmarking. I find myself using Twitter to show neato stuff to friends. While delicious seems to have the win for helping me store information I may want to look at later, Twitter is where I go to say “hey guys, take a look at this!” In other words, if I’m not likely to want it later (ie. a “breaking news story”) Twitter’s where I’m going to go with it. I also find that links are just a bit more personalized when I get them through Twitter, probably because they are the sort of things you’d want other people to see.
What Libraries Should Think About: The personal aspect of Twitter is very important. If a library is sending links, it ought to be something the library thinks is special — there has to be a human aspect about it. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.
- Food/Coffee is a common theme.
Description: Maybe it’s just librarians, but people are always going on about their lunch, coffee, supper, sleep. I wonder what a Twitter search for the word “yum” would bring out?
What Libraries Should Think About: Twitterers have real lives too. You can learn alot about a subject using Twitter Mashups though. For instance, I searched the word “library” in the twittermap application and a whole lot of tags showed up around Philadelphia. I wonder why?
- It’s about my friends, really.
Description: More than anything, my twitter account is about people that interest me. I choose my “friends” carefully, and usually along a specific train of thought. Actually, I see most of my social sphere as involving different “moods” of my internet access. Facebook tends to be about local and highschool/college friends. Twitter is about librarians. This blog is about libraries on the whole.
What Libraries Ought to Think About: Is there a “mood” within social softwares in which libraries belong? Is the library going to improve or worsen that mood?
- It’s great for social planning.
Description: When I went to CIL last year, I really wished I had twitter. All the cool cats knew where all the cool events were, and poor old me had no clue. Don’t get me wrong, I had lots and lots of fun anyway, but Twitter is great for keeping up with your acquaintances.
What Libraries Ought to Think About: Twitter is about up-to-date, quick-paced blogging. Twitter ought to happen a few times in a day, and in general, it is better to have a one-month hiatus and then 20 twits in one day than it is to pace yourself with a once-a-week post like you would with a normal blog.
Your Twitter persona happens in a series of post usually happening in one or two days. Your customers’ Twitter experience will change from day to day as some people login and out over time. In other words, it is not unlike a chatroom. A good strategy might be to schedule a day in the week or all-day event where the library will “Twitter” over the course of the day.
- I always want up-to-date Twits.
Description: I do not look at old Twits really. In that sense, the information on Twitter is highly, highly disposable. If, for some reason I am not receiving my twits, I feel like a twit because I am usually responding to things that are out of relevance.
What Libraries Ought to Think About: Old news is no news. If you are not Twitting often, you should probably not twit at all.
- I most frequently read twits with an @username attached to them.
Description: Twitter lets people comment on what people say, usually by placing an “at” sign in front of the user name. This draws the attention of a twitter friend. I love this stuff the most, and I often track the old twits by clicking on the @username.
What Libraries Ought to Think About: Twitter is banter — you just have to accept that reality. Humans like banter — it’s ingrained. If you do not want your library to be part of the banter on the web, perhaps Twitter is not for your library. Then again, the *real* question you have to ask is whether your customers want the library to be part of this banter. That’s a hard call, and that’s why I want to see some empirical data on the issue.
All in all, Twitter is another tool to play around with to see if it works for what your library is doing in the community. From what I’ve seen so far, the Library Twitterverse has been occurring in about the same way that most Library Facebook applications have been occurring. First, interested library techies start “friending,” then come a few library customers. After that, it will either fizzle out or take off. In the end, “how” you use these technologies will matter more than “what” technologies you use.