Monday, September 12, 2011

Following on Twitter and the Card Catalog

Following on Twitter and the Card Catalog

This is a post that most of the younger set will not understand. I have a degree in History. Back in the old days it was often necessary to get up and go to the library to do research. The card catalog was our Google.

Card Cat Call NumberI can already sense eyes rolling at the thought of such antiquity. 

The Ironclad rule of Library Resources

It does not matter if you go to the San Francisco Public library, or to the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco: The item you want will not be at its’ Call Number location

After you learned this rule, it was much easier to locate materials for a paper. Strunk and White provides guidance:
  1. Go to the card catalog
  2. Create an index card for each book or periodical
  3. Find the materials in the stacks
  4. Create separate note cards to capture specific notes and make appropriate citations
Most of the information that is collected in the bibliography tool in Microsoft Word is the same as displayed on the reference card (click for larger image).

Card Cat Biblio

The key to the exercise is to build your bibliography (collect enough resources) at the card catalog so that you might get lucky to find one of them in the stacks. Since the book you really want will never (never, ever, ever) be on the shelf, the next thing to do was to surf through adjoining books to see if they might apply. You might even check the book return cart at the end of the row if you feel lucky.

How does this apply to Twitter?

One difficult Twitter chore is to decide whom to follow. Yes, you can simply follow everybody. Imagine sitting is a stadium with 80,000 people posting to Twitter. The Signal to Noise ration will fall well below 1:1 –- that is you will have plenty of noise, and not enough signal. The better choice is to filter some of the noise by selecting good sources to follow:
  1. What are you interested in following?
  2. Who are the thought leaders, important contributors in these niches?
  3. Who can you (should you) ignore?

A Personal Example

I was searching for information during the Central Texas Wildfires of September, 2011.  The main stream media (Washington and New York) can’t locate Texas on a map, so they were of no use. The local media was also well behind on coverage.

Several people on Twitter started gaining traction, started to form gravity. As I followed these people, they led me to others that might not be as outspoken, but that were feeding critical information. The second group was providing raw data that were being re-tweeted (curated) by the thought leaders. 

Cull Your List

One of the early fire commentators was an anchor at a local broadcast news outlet. It made sense to follow this person, since information would typically flow through the established media. But post after post was about perfect 4-light lighting, her skydiving adventure and other personal musings. Clearly, Twitter was not where news was going to be published. (Unfollow)


Bottom Line

Twitter is much like a large library. The card catalog is a great resource to start the journey; “what are you looking for?”. Resources will not be where you expect them - the book is not on the shelf and the mainstream media is not covering the story. So you have to look a little deeper and maybe get lucky. Finally, some resources are just bad, and should be rejected.

Understanding this 3-Step process -- Search, Get Lucky, Cull Your List, is a good strategy for building a useful Twitter Stream.


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