If you are reading this blog I assume you are pretty Web-savvy. Thus, you are aware of the recent proliferation of various microblogging services, most notably Twitter and FriendFeed (though, with recent changes, Facebook is now more of a microblogging service than a social network as well).
Despite online debates – which one is better: Twitter or FriendFeed, sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek – the fact is that these are two different ‘animals’ altogether. Asking one to make a choice between the two is like asking one to make a choice between e-mail and YouTube – those are two different services that do different things. Thus, they are to be used differently. And we at PLoS are aware of this and use both of these services in what we think are appropriate ways.
Twitter is a communications tool (or a ‘human application’). You can broadcast (one-to-many), you can eavesdrop (many-to-one) or you can converse (one-to-one, either in public or through Direct Messages). But most importantly – you have to mix a little bit of all three. If all you do is throw your RSS feed into Twitter, i.e., only broadcast, then you are doing it wrong. In Twitter, you have to engage with others on a regular basis – listening, talking, conversing. Reciprocating. Not building a fan-club, but a network of friends. As I mentioned on my blog before:
You will be measured by the size of your network – who is your (mutual – it has to be mutual!) friend.
As they say, if all you get on Twitter is uninteresting chatter, you are following the wrong people. For instance, you may be interested in following scientists or science writers on Twitter, for a healthy daily dose of science-related news and discussion.
Smart people on Twitter have moved away from ‘Lifecasting’ (i.e., “what I had for breakfast”) and have started doing Mindcasting instead (Jay Rosen explains the concept). By tweeting a series of messages and links over a short period of time, one can collect on Twitter (and import into FriendFeed for additional commentary) all the material for a serious blog post in one place. For example, Jay Rosen has collected a series of good links about the future of journalism on Twitter, which resulted in a subsequent blog post.
Twitter is also becoming a platform for breaking news. It can be also put into the service of medical education, e.g., liveblogging surgery, or in scientific research – for example, in monitoring fish catch by non-commercial fishermen.
I myself, after a long time of resistance, recently succumbed and started using Twitter – find me here. I find it useful and I am trying to balance the three modes (broadcast, eavesdrop, converse) as best I can. I can definitely see the allure, especially for people who use mobile devices (I don’t – I spend too much time online anyway and need to reconnect with the physicalness of the world when I am not at the computer, thus I disabled the online access on my cell phone and have never texted a message in my life).
People who follow me on Twitter, probably all of them, know where I work. One out of 20 tweets or so have something to do with PLoS. My profile links to my blog, on which it is immediately obvious where I work. I don’t need to pull in the RSS feed from PLoS to be effective as a “face of PLoS” on Twitter.
But, even better, I am not alone – Liz Allen is now on Twitter, too, as an “official” face of PLoS. And, if you check out the PLoS twitter profile and click on “Follow”, you will see that she totally groks it. She tweets our science stories as they break particularly for the benefit of science journalists who follow PLoS on Twitter and others who love to get the latest information hot off the press. Her tweets do not have that horrible “PR feel” about them that some of the business marketers erroneously use. So I hope you will subscribe.
FriendFeed, on the other hand, is more of an aggregator. It is as much or as little of a conversation as you want it to be. You do not have to balance the three modes and you can use it in one of the modes only and it can still work for you.
I have joined FriendFeed some time ago and I find it extremely useful. This is where I find half of my personal “bloggable” material these days – the eavesdropping mode. I do the broadcast mode by importing the feeds from my blog and my Twitter. I use the conversation mode by “liking” and/or commenting on other people’s stuff (which, in turn, makes me more visible to others). As with Twitter, people who follow me mostly know where I work and are used to seeing an occasional PLoS-related entry from me without considering it to be PR spamming.
FriendFeed, like Twitter, can also be used for ‘Mindcasting’, i.e., aggregating in one place all the necessary links on a topic one needs for writing a future blog post. For example, here I collected all the links to responses to the recent Nature article about science blogging and science journalism.
But what FriendFeed allows people to do in addition, is make a ‘room’. There are a number of science-related rooms on FriendFeed, e.g., The Life Scientists, Science 2.0, BioJobs, Scholarly Communication and Open Access Day, among others. Some very interesting discussions occur in these rooms almost every day. Furthermore, FriendFeed rooms are ideal places for liveblogging conferences, for instance ScienceOnline09, Science Online, Science in the 21st Century Conference, ISMB 2008, BioBarCamp and CISB’09.
You can join the PLoS ONE room if you want to see the PLoS ONE feed imported (as well as the feeds from the PLoS Blog, the PLoS twitter and EveryONE blog). This way I do not have to spam anyone who subscribes to my main feed. Whenever there is a good blog post covering one of the PLoS ONE papers, I add the permalink to that post as a comment on that paper’s feed in the room (feel free to do it yourself if you blog about our papers). Occasionally I may place additional news or links there as well. That way, I can be myself yet still do the marketing for PLoS that I need to do. And nobody’s complained so far. You should give it a try.