Twenty-Three Things: Activity 18 — Twitter

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox
  16. Tagging Links: Delicious
  17. Tagging Links: Technorati

Activity 18: Twitter

Ok, I’m already on Twitter: @andrewbwatt.  I follow 515 people, and 1,125 follow me as of this writing.  I’m guessing that of those hordes of people that follow me, perhaps two bother to read my blog — because that’s how many people show up from Twitter every day.  

Which is what Twitter has turned into, for me — a way to advertise my blog.  It’s easy to set up a link between this page and Twitter; what I do here on this page is usually echoed in miniature form there (that 140 character limit, after all, does get in the way of my usual writing style).  As an advertising service, it fails: of 1,125 people who get notified that they can read something by Andrew B. Watt right now if they choose, Twitter achieves a conversion rate of 0.1%.  This is to say, I’m either a lousy internet marketer, or a lousy writer, or both.

Really, though, I am putting droplets into the business-end of a firehose.  I rarely make the time to participate in online discussions on Twitter using hash tags like #makered for Maker-related education in schools, or in #educhat, which is just teachers hanging around talking.  Maybe I’d develop a larger audience for the blog by doing that, but mostly I find that the conversation on Twitter is too general or diffuse to offer much in the way of planning.  I read Twitter feeds a little bit, and look at common or popular articles there from edutopia.org or other important websites in the ed-tech world.  But really? There’s more out there than I can take in, and — to quote the Lion King — more to find that can ever be found.  

This is one of the key lessons for me from Twitter — a firehose of new links is poring out onto the internet daily, all of which is competing for the limited time and attention of readers and users.  I can’t read it all, and I shouldn’t try to.

On the other hand, it illustrates a neat problem.  Every year, an unspecified number of students get to reach the Internet as bloggers for the first time.  Some decide to take up blogging on their own; some take up blogging at the request of an English or history teacher at their school.  And the moment they do, they have to start figuring out how to market and position themselves as writers in an already-crowded marketplace.    How does a writer attract an audience?  How do they find readers? How do they go about communicating with other readers and writers?  How do you find things you like?  How do you attract genuine notice, and not just spammers and self-promoters and self-styled “web entrepreneurs”? Half my Twitter followers don’t ever seem to read anything; they just spit out links to the same four or five sites… 

Of course, I do the same thing, don’t I?  You get links to my Flickr account if you follow me, or this blog, and not much else.  Aren’t I as much of a web entrepreneur as any of my followers? Aren’t I trying to build a brand?  And I find that raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions for me as a teacher.  Because I’m supposed to be devoted to a public good, the education of the next generation.  Am I really supposed to have my own ambitions, my own identity, my own brand?

At this point, I doubt I could stop blogging.  I’ve grown attached to the idea that there’s at least some little audience out there that reads this (26 readers a day is still 10,500 reads a year… and usually it’s more, when it’s all counted).  And nearly 400 of those readers came here from Twitter in the last 365 days. (Google alone brought almost half of them, though, clocking in at 6,200 visitors out of the almost 13,000 readers in the past year).

So that’s how Twitter does at broadcasting my message.  How does it do at helping me find what I’m looking for?  I’ll try to focus on this over the next few days, and I’ll give you an answer on Friday.

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