Less is More: Using Twitter to Keep Up

As time marches forward and technology progresses at the speed of light, our choice of mediums  for keeping up with various professional reading materials seems to grow every month or so. Between print materials, listservs, general e-mail announcements, RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter, and MORE, it can be overwhelming. It really is too much information for anyone to reasonably take in. So we have to make choices.

I turned away from RSS feeds about a year ago because they felt like reading assignments. I either made sure I got to them all each and every day, or else I’d go for a period of time without reading only to return to a frightening number of unread items. For a time, I also tried following many law and library-related pages on Facebook. Even that became a bit annoying when I had so much commingling of things both personally and professionally important to me.

Then I decided to give Twitter a try. Now, I’m a true believer in the power of Twitter. I encourage you to give Twitter a try before dismissing it as just another medium for useless information.

The following are my top five reasons to love Twitter:

1. Others Do the Work – When I read RSS feeds, I often wondered whether I missed other information I’d find useful, interesting, or enlightening. I was loyal to the feeds in my Reader, and Twitter opened up a new universe of information. When you follow interesting people, they tend to tweet links to things you would never come across on your own. No one has time to read all of these sources, which is what makes the crowdsourcing aspect of Twitter so appealing. It’s one-stop shopping for many of my personal and professional interests; providing exposure to articles and information I wouldn’t otherwise learn.
2. Better Communication – The maximum character allowance for tweets is 140. That’s not a lot of space in which to provide lengthy commentary. However, it is sufficient space to provide a short message to someone or a brief commentary on whatever strikes you in the moment. If you’re sharing a URL, however, you’ll have to make your description a bit more brief. According to a Mashable post, as of February 20, 2013, tweets containing a URL are limited to 117 characters. Don’t let the brevity requirement daunt you. It can help you train yourself to write more succinctly, which has benefits extending far beyond any social media platform.
3. Networking – Although I “like” many different types of pages on Facebook, I try to reserve Facebook for interacting with friends, family, and co-workers I know relatively well. While some people “friend” almost everyone they meet, I keep it small and personal. Twitter, however, is a space for me to follow people I know, people I don’t know, and people I’m unlikely to ever have the chance to know. Twitter may be one of the best networking tools available. You can share bits of information, thank others for sharing things you found intriguing or useful, and generally interact in a massive open forum. It allows you to expand the scope of your professional network even if you never meet some of them in person. And if you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter @MicheleThomasM.
4. No More Growing List of Things to Read – In my old RSS feed days, I’d sometimes go a week without checking in on my Reader, which normally resulted in me marking all 300 of the articles or posts appearing as read and simply moving on. Other times, the Reader felt like a reading assignment I’d never be able to complete. Twitter solved it all. It’s like the Niagara Falls of Information. I sign in to take in the view whenever I have time, and when I don’t have time, it simply goes on without me. There’s never that sense of a growing stack of material to read. One of my favorite academic tweeters, @AndreaZellner, said Twitter is much like the radio. Sometimes, you turn it on. And sometimes, you don’t.
5. Entertainment – It’s like the “show about the show.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain the entertainment value of watching anything on television while also following along on Twitter. The debates during election season were far more interesting when reading in real time about the reactions of others. The Oscars became a country-wide discussion. And although I’m not a Downton Abbey watcher, I can report that Twitter lights up when the show is on. Of course, it can be distracting too. It’s not something you want to do all the time. But on occasion, it’s definitely fun to read Twitter while watching television. It’s quite fascinating to get that immediate sense of how others respond.

What are your favorite methods for keeping up with professional reading and personal interests?

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