ChemTweets and Scientwits

I was interviewed by Faith Hayden for this week’s Chemical & Engineering News on the subject of, you guessed it, science on Twitter. This link is now free to view.

Here’s a transcript of my interview:

How long have you been Tweeting?

I joined Twitter in June 2007 under the pseudonym “@sciencebase“, which is the name of my website. I made a few sporadic tweets until I discovered twitterfeeder, which automates the process of announcing one’s latest blog posts. I probably accrued about 50 followers until I saw the light last autumn. At that point I realized that tweeting isn’t a one-way process and that the key to successfully using the service is engagement with other users.

What do you primarily use your Twitter account for?

Once I’d taken the leap from simply tweeting for my own benefit and instead started to share information, blog posts, and links to other sites, that might be useful to others and to respond to their tweets with comments and retweets, twitter really started to take off for me. I went from a few dozen followers and very few people with whom I was engaging until late 2008 to a nice group of of well over 4000 people with whom I connect regularly and who also frequent my Sciencebase.com website on a basis.

Where do you think Twitter fits in with social networking?

You would, at first glance, think it’s quite limiting having to share an idea in just 140 characters, but with a little tweaking of one’s thought processes, you can get quite a lot of information across in a tweet as well as a link to a more substantial blog post, say. As a journalist, I see it as being akin to writing a beefed up headline.

How is Twitter changing science writing and science blogging?

I think Twitter, and perhaps more so FriendFeed where are the growing communities (rooms) in the life sciences and other areas, are to some extent changing the way the community itself finds out about science blogs and discusses science-related news, results, ethics and much moreā€¦

Do you think Twitter is changing the way the public consumes science news?

Twitter is still very much in its infancy, and while there seem to be a lot of people following me as sciencebase on twitter just for my news headlines, I suspect that there are far more getting their science news fix directly from websites such as Slashdot, ScienceDaily, and Eurekalert and via newsfeed aggregators too. Currently, there seems to be a surge of interest in FriendFeed, which adds several other features useful to science types on the net that are unavailable to twitter users. I suspect Twitter will either upgrade to something more like FriendFeed or the next version of FriendFeed will supercede Twitter, at least among niche users, such as scientists.

Do you find the 140-character Tweet limiting for science posts?

Like I said before, I start with the assumption that I’m really writing a beefed up headline. It’s definitely an art, especially as you are even more limited if you’re including a shortened link and want to leave space for fellow twitter users to retweet your tweet. I’m no expert, but I do try hard.

Would you encourage seasoned scientists and Ph.D. students to add Twitter to their list of bookmarked websites?

I’d encourage everyone in science to join twitter and/or FriendFeed. There is definitely a big initial hurdle to get over before these tools become useful and often novice users will abandon them before they get to that point. Build up slowly the number of people you follow, avoid scammers and spammers like the plague. For instance, as a chemistry gad student, you’re quite unlikely to have much in common with anyone calling themselves a “social media marketing guru and SEO expert”. There are lots of science types on Twitter who you will almost certainly share interests and who will be worth engaging with. Think of it as the coffee break talk between conference lectures.

For science types on twitter who want to explore twitter and science further, two resources you might find useful – bit.ly page (almost 500 members) and http://www.twibes.com/group/scientists (more than 400 members); some overlap, also lots of science journalists, educators etc, in both now.

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