I have had some great discussions on Twitter. Professional discussions, discussions about parenting, conversations with friends. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that you can have a quality professional discussion with multiple people (some of whom you may not normally follow) in that medium. I have also gotten great information and advice in response to “querying the hive” on Twitter. In spite of what people might say about its value, I have gotten a lot out of Twitter professionally.
But if I try to recall those conversations, that great piece of advice, or that link to that article that someone posted to Twitter maybe a year ago, I usually find myself at a dead-end. While Twitter can be a great medium for having conversations with many, many knowledgeable and interesting people, I am frustrated by the ephemeral nature of those conversations. I was working on creating slides for a presentation yesterday, and I remembered that a friend had posted a link on Twitter to an infographic that would have been really useful to me, but it was a long time ago and would have been nearly impossible to find. I ended up searching Google for over 20 minutes before I finally put in the right keywords and found a blog post that included the link I was looking for.
In theory, people could bookmark the permalinks of tweets that they think they might use in the future, but often, we don’t know what we might use in the future. I also can’t find a good way to actually archive a conversation on Twitter amongst a distributed group of individuals. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe, in that way, Twitter mimics the real world, where we don’t record our conversations and have to rely on our memory to recall what was said.
But it’s not just Twitter. Very few of us are only having conversations in one space. Twitter. FriendFeed. Google Plus. Facebook. I have friends in all of those and while some are friends in all of those spaces, many of them I can only interact with in one of them. I have given up on FriendFeed because I just don’t have the time (and I never got into Google Plus), but I know I am missing meaningful interactions with friends I care deeply about. But who can be everywhere? Is there anyone who can have meaningful interactions with their networks in all of those spaces? I find that difficult to imagine. And who wants to have to go to four different places to have conversations? Do you post the same things to all of them?
Jack Vinson recently wrote about his frustrations with the overly distributed nature of our online conversations and I was happy to see that I’m not the only one bothered by this:
About a month ago, I posted my review of a book and mentioned the idea of “schedule chicken” which is a funny-but-sad problem of project management. A few days later, another friend posted a link to a video from Apollo 13 (I think) that demonstrated schedule chicken perfectly. Awesome!
The problem? Several weeks later, I have no idea where he posted that link to the video. Was it on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+? Could it have been on LinkedIn? I hunted about, but having no idea where to start, I was quickly frustrated at the lack of search capability in the various platforms and the lack of ability to have control of my stream of stuff!
I’ve been blogging for nearly seven years now and my blog is an amazing record of my changing interests, views and more. It’s also a great record — through comments and trackbacks — of the conversations I’ve had and that others have had about my ideas. You can really get a sense of the tenor of conversations around certain topics in the past by looking at my blog comments. Though there are certainly things I’d like to delete from that history, it does represent me at a specific time in my professional and personal development and I appreciate having that window into the “me” of two, four, or six years ago. And how many times have I gone back to a post of mine it for ideas for an article or a presentation?
And blogging certainly was distributed too. Lots of different people writing about similar things in different spaces all across the Web. People continuing conversations not only in comments on a specific post, but on their own blogs. But with comments and trackbacks, it still is relatively easy to follow the thread of a conversation that happened many years ago across the blogosphere. This is something we lost when we jumped into the stream. And maybe that’s ok most of the time, but there are moments when we might like a record of those conversations; where what we feel we (or others) are writing about or linking to is significant.
I have found my blog posts quoted and cited in dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles over the years. It’s gratifying to know that what I’ve written is impacting scholarship. And it certainly makes the case for blogging to be considered as scholarship. For someone like me who is on the tenure track and has a blog that one could argue has had an impact on our profession, it is important to me that blogging is considered legitimate scholarship (not on the level of a refereed article, but scholarship nonetheless). And that’s part of why I feel disappointed that so much of the professional conversation is moving to Twitter. Will Tweets ever be cited in the scholarly literature? I find that unlikely, not only because of their length, but who the heck could actually find it when they need to cite it years later? And if the conversation is leaving the blogosphere, will blogs like mine still be important parts of the scholarly conversation or will there be even more of a wall up between “real scholarship” and “social media.”
I know it’s futile to argue for a return to blogging as the primary means of professional conversation in social media. But I think it’s valuable to consider what we lose by replacing blogging with steam-based social media (not supplementing, but replacing). A loss of control, of history, of scholarly relevance and perhaps of deeper and more meaningful discussions (though I know I risk sounding like Michael Gorman with his “blog people” screed). There are things I post to Twitter that I think others might like to know about that I don’t feel merit an entire blog post. Twitter has a lot of advantages over blogs for a lot of things. But it is not an adequate replacement for the kind of thoughtful conversations one can have via blogs. There were a lot of blogs that I loved years ago that have become nearly (or truly) defunct as their authors have moved to Twitter or FriendFeed to have the majority of their professional conversations. I know it’s just the way things go, but I can’t help but feel some disappointment that it’s the way things are going.
As someone looking to build or maintain a coherent presence online, I think there is still value to carving out one’s own space on the Web, rather than just contributing ephemeral insights through microblogging. There’s a place for both, but, for me, at least, I want to find a way to centralize and control my contribution to the profession. And I’m just not sure how to do that with what I write in “the streams.”