Mike the Mad Biologist

To Twitter or Not to Twitter…

…that is the question–along with some thoughts about being a blogger and not a writer.

I’ve been asking other science bloggers if I should start using Twitter. The answers have ranged from the formation of a blood pact sworn to never (EVAH!) use Twitter to a belief that Twitter ‘communities’ are the equivalent of a meta-hive mind and The New Frontier of Consciousness (the moderate view is that it serves as a combination notepad and blog aggregator which seems pretty useful actually). The downside is that I don’t need another time sink. Which brings me to a couple of thoughts about being a blogger, not a professional writer.

I can see Twittering (tweeting? twiting?) being useful to writers. If you’re a writer, you write (just as James Earl Jones once said that you can be unemployed or an actor, you can’t be an unemployed actor). Twittering is just another form of communicating. More than that, if your job is to write about things people are discussing, thinking about, or writing about*, I can see Twitter helping a professional writer/blogger/journalist (or what I think of as a ‘media mini-conglomerate’). It could help a writer sound out ideas, or even develop new ideas by being exposed to The Big Cacaphonious Conversation that could be Twitter (of course, that’s what people said about Facebook, and I hate Facebook).

But that’s not what I do. I like blogging about all sorts of things, some of which are occasionally related to science. But I’m not a professional science communicator. I’ve always viewed this blog as the various and sundry thoughts of a slightly off-kilter biologist. And the subject matter often is not biology because I figure I can babble about things I know little about just as well as David Broder or Maureen Dowd. Why should journalism and English majors get to have all the fun? (and is there anything economists won’t talk about?). But blogging is not my job (Our Benevolent Seed Overlords, depending on various things, pay me..well, I can get a decent dinner out of it every month). Scientific research, and to a lesser extent (now, much lesser), public policy are my jobs. Granted, the blog has helped in those areas: for instance, I just had a very nice conversation with some people at Pew Charitable Trusts a couple days ago, in part, because of my blogging.

For someone like me, Twitter could obviously be a distraction. I have a hard enough time clearing out the Turkish viagra spam (?!?) from the comments and responding to emails at the blog address. Do I need to tweet? Because I’m not trying to be Chris Mooney (and I have no idea if he uses Twitter) or Carl Zimmer: this is a good thing, since I don’t write nearly as well as they do. I’m, first and foremost, a working scientist. Not only do I have to detach from the hive mind and do stuff, but I would like to think that perspective is different from a science communicator.

So, I turn this over to the readers: should I join Twitter or not?

*And if your job is to write about things people are writing about things people are writing about….[Gears...freeze...up]

Comments

  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    March 27, 2009

    I’d avoid Twitter. 140 character limit? Say what? This just encourages trivial and pointless posts. E-mail and blogs suffice for me, but I’m an old codger, I admit.

  2. #2 Carl Zimmer
    March 27, 2009

    Guess what–I’ve directed people to your blogs posts by twittering: http://twitter.com/carlzimmer/status/1354642872

    I think twitter is good for the same reason blogs and all the rest are good. It’s a way to experiment with talking to people. You may find that it’s ultimately useless for you, or you may go whole hog on the twittering, or you may end up somewhere in between–for example, by turning it into a terse wire service for your own blog posts. I like the fact that I can reach more people than I can without it, if only to relay a link to a new article of mine–or to a blog post by a microbiologist I find interesting.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    March 27, 2009

    I have found Twitter invaluable as a scientist, blogger, and professor. I’m having far less time to read blogs and even catch up on my RSS feeds. So, I follow tweeple whose opinions I respect and a 140 character description of a news article or blog post helps me prioritize my reading (Twitter apps usually have URL shorteners embedded.) Much, much more efficient than all the e-mails and blogs.

    I know our fields only have minor overlap, but follow me @abelpharmboy for a week or so and see if you find it useful.

  4. #4 Joshua
    March 27, 2009

    I recently joined Twitter because I have a lot of friends who use it. I have a full-sized blog, but sometimes I have random chatty thoughts that it doesn’t make sense to post there. So I’ve been sending those off to Twitter instead. Does anyone but me care? Probably not.

    The other thing I just hit on today was that I could be using Twitter to archive the blog comments I make by posting links to them. I already have my blog set up to post a digest of all my Twitter posts for the day, so they’ll all get rolled up and posted in a place where I can find them later if I want to. (And share them with all three people who read my blog.)

    It occurs to me that you might be able to use a similar arrangement for your daily links posts. Rather than saving your links somewhere and then manually rolling them into a single post, you could just link them on your Twitter feed and then post a digest to the blog. (Assuming that Sb’s blog software supports such a thing…)

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    March 27, 2009

    I broke down and signed up just to give it a try. I’m not ready to get stodgy.
    @digitalbio

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    March 28, 2009

    Joshua:

    I don’t think it supports doing such a thing automatically. MT kind of sucks when it comes to plugins.

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