09 September 2008

Twitter Experiment at IAALD World Congress 2008 a Great Success!

Well, simply put I am now officially a Twitter fan ... is there a term for this? Am I a “Twitterite” or a “Twitteree” or something like that?

You will know if you've read a few of my blog postings from last month that I started experimenting with Twitter, which was an idea that came into my head while taking the CGIAR-FAO Knowledge Sharing workshop earlier this year. Although initially I was quite skeptical that “microblogging” could provide enough information to be truly useful.

As timing would have it (serendipity anyone?) just after I subscribed to Twitter, Nancy White went to New Zealand to attend the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) 2008 Conference and was twittering the event with the tag “DEANZ08”. Suddenly I realized I had insight into a conference that I wasn’t attending and frankly hadn’t even been on my radar. Better yet, even though I didn’t attend the conference through Nancy’s tweets I got some nuggets of interest that I followed up (Googled in fact) to learn more about on my own. Then came the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress 2008, for which the tag “aginfo8” was coined by Peter Balantyne, and one of the panels I participated in was to discuss the use of cellular telephones in the development setting, and well, I was inspired. This was my chance to run a little experiment of my own to see if Twitter really was worth my time.

I started by twittering the conference. Just putting up one or two “tweets” per session that I attended, highlighting something I thought was key or interesting. I have feedback from people following me on Twitter that this was appreciated: (an example from my Twitter)
  • gervis @mongkolroek thank you Michael for keeping us posted by a #aginfo98 report and thank youu @nancywhite for pointing to the JAALD tweets 11:12 AM August 27, 2008 from web

The third day of the conference was the plenary e-Agriculture panel. So that morning (early Japan time) I asked a question on Twitter about the use of cell phones in the ICT4D area. Guess what? I got replies and I referenced one reply (below) as an example while I was on the panel.
  • Argentina provides a good case of mobilization of farmers supported by mobiles to organize the strike against govn't in food prices crisis 07:29 AM August 27, 2008
This brought together COP, mobile telephony, and the food price crisis all in one inspired moment! I was very pleased, and I am also sold on the value of Twitter and microblogging.

Me Twittering during the panel discussion.
(Photo Credit: Shehzaad Shams

My colleague Gauri was also using Twitter at the conference. When the IAALD web 2.0 team found out about this, they interviewed us and posted the short video clip. (I think the video is a pretty awful image of me – strangely that little camera made me more uncomfortable than a room full of people! But content wise it is pretty good.)

There are some limitations with Twitter, mainly arising from two issues, both of which the Twitter developers are very forthright in addressing on their website/blog. First, the service has gotten popular enough that the servers exceed capacity at times and one has to be a bit patient to get data. Second, there is a limitation on who can receive outgoing SMS based on the country your SIM card is registered in. In Thailand, where I live, we cannot get SMS updates. Those limitations aside, this is a great service, and in time I think (hope!) these limitations will be addressed.

Twitter on!


Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Michael, that sound like a positive experience with a new tool! Yet, it all depends on your network. Being on twitter without having a solid network wouldn't help. I have two questions: 1. did you use mobile phone to twitter and did you read responses too?
2. how did the tag work?

Michael said...

Yes Twitter is a positive experience, and I agree that it's dependent on having a good network. One thing I failed to mention is that I'm slowly building my network with a focus on professional peers/colleagues (not friends and family as that's not what I decided to use Twitter for). Now about your questions...

1. I can send but not receive sms-based "tweets" on my mobile phone because the service is based in Thailand (where there's no Twitter agreement with the phone companies). Instead I use the wi-fi service on my iPhone combined with Twitterriffic to send and receive tweets.

I did send/receive tweets all through this conference (the picture catches me in the act!).

2. Tagging on Twitter is indicated by placing a "#" character at the beginning of the tag. (This is common use, but not universal - much is written online about it.) The specific tag for this meeting "aginfo8" was chosen by one of the organizers and was announced prior to and during the meeting so that all of us would use the common tag. That's why now if you Google "aginfo8" you will find many types of content from this meeting. At search.twitter.com you can find all the tweets from the conference.