Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Live Tweeting lectures

Social media in health care is a fascinating and rapidly mutating field. One of things that makes it so interesting is that just as we start to master one set of tools, new ones arrive. Twitter is the latest tool to catch fire in the Healthcare Social Media arena. The real time nature of Twitter and the ability to have conversations with colleagues around the world is one of the most globe-shrinking experiences in which I have ever participated.

Twitter is great for exchanging single ideas and single sentences, but as the thought becomes more complex, the elegance of Twitter breaks down. People are forced to send tweet after tweet to express an idea. As the tweet stream begins to lengthen, it should becomes obvious that Twitter is not the right tool for the job. We do not live in a world with only hammers.

The quintessential example of this is the trend to "Live Tweet" meetings. Sometimes this is appropriate. For example when the meeting contains breaking news. This happens at the Late Breaking Clinical Trials session at Kidney Week. Here the presenters are providing the world with its first glimpse at new information. I remember live tweeting the Bardoxolone results 6 months before they were published in the NEJM. That however is not what we tend to see with people live tweeting a meeting. Usually it is a string of hopelessly unintelligible tweets trying to express the words, images, references and ideas of a presenter in 140 characters (actually it is never 140 characters because no live tweet is complete without the obligatory meeting hashtag, #KidneyWeek12)

I have heard people defend live tweeting as a way of keeping notes for a meeting. It's great that you are taking notes but if you think that twitter is as good way to archive information, you must be new here. Old tweets regularly disappear from the Twitter database or become functionally unobtainable within a few weeks. Writing your notes on the back of a business card that you stick to the coffee house bulletin board would be a more reliable way to archive your thoughts. Additionally, if you are taking notes, why go through the overhead of parsing them into 140 character thoughts and posting them?

In the end, live-tweeting a meeting seems intellectually lazy. I think it is great for participants to take notes, think about the speakers and post their summaries or conclusions to the internet. I just feel that Twitter is a terrible way to do it. If you want to post longer thoughts, careful notes or thoughtful conclusion, it sounds like you might like blogging.

On the other hand if you want to make snarky side comments about the use of Comic Sans in the presentation Twitter is the perfect tool.

Pot meet Kettle. Kettle meet pot:
I have agreed to live Tweet Med 2.0'12 in September for eAJKD. I am going to try and filter my tweets and use the tool rationally. I want to pair a modest bolus of tweets with short individual posts for each session in which I participate.
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