As a person who takes copious notes, the articles about backchannelling were of particular interest and brought up some interesting points. To start, ‘tweets’ from conferences were analyzed for the types of tweets and for the content of the tweets to determine the effectiveness and benefits of Twitter and micor-blogging during conferences. Budong Chen (Is the Backchannel Enabled? Using Twitter at Academic Conferences) listed for types of user interaction:

  • RT@original_user tweet_text_body – Re-tweets – tweeters passing along tweets from other users
  • @username is a reply from the receiver to the sender; mention contains the @username in the text body
  • Direct messages (DM) are private between the sender and receiver
  • Hashtags use the # sign to group tweets for a group of people or a community

One of the factors that makes Twitter a popular communication tool at conferences is the availability of mobile internet. The articles also pointed out that Twitter can make conferences more interactive, making it easier for attendees to communicate with presenters. Alternately, unofficial backchannelling is not a guarantee of interaction.

Research presented in these articles showed that original tweets offering user’s own ideas and summaries dominated the Twitter conversation at most conferences, though that varied significantly by the type of conference. It also reaffirmed what they described as the 80-20 rule – 80% of the tweets were make by 20% of the tweeters. Pointless Babble or Enabled Backchannel: Conference Use of Twitter by Digital Humanists (Ross, et al.) also pointed out that newer users of Twitter or those new to the discipline were often excluded from the Twitter chatter, suggesting fragmentation among the participants. Chen used visualization to highlight the connections between tweeters. Chen was able to use that to compare the program timeline with spikes in tweet activity and noted a correlation with favored speakers.

From a purely simplistic viewpoint, taking the time to compose a post draws one’s attention from the content of the conference. That might cause the listener to miss important points. I agree that Twitter can enhance participation during the presentations, but the Tweets are likely more valuable if the users can review them later, either by paging through them or gathering them to be printed. The visualizations of the connections between the Twitter users at the conferences highlight how and why the backchanneling can be a  successful tool to highlight important points throughout a conference or presentation. Research has shown that most of the tweeters at a given conference commented on what the ‘experts’ or presenters and what the most active tweeters had to say, then passed along what they thought was relevant. In Twitter’s present form, main points can easily get lost as the conversation progresses. Knowing how this works, presenters will have to develop ways to use Twitter to keep those ideas in the forefront throughout the conference.