For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in #etmooc, a massive open online course (MOOC) about educational technology and media. This is a cMOOC, where the goal is connecting people and building a community, as opposed to an xMOOC where you watch videos, do assignments and so on. And so, there is a lot of online community building occurring through Blackboard Collaborate, a Google+ community, hundreds of blogs and, my tool-of-choice, Twitter.
In addition to the the #etmooc backchannel that lights up during the live, Blackboard Collaborate sessions, there are weekly Twitter chat sessions #etmchat.
There are many new twitter users participating in #etmooc – getting on Twitter is part of the course. New users, suddenly surrounded by 100’s of like-minded folks, do a lot of following. And I see the same kind of tweet flowing by every few minutes: “I’m overwhelmed with tweets! How do I keep up?” I’ve been using Twitter for 3 or 4 years and I feel I’m getting pretty good at it. In response to these cries for help, I thought I’d share how I drink from the Twitter River without drowning.
Step 1: Get a program to access Twitter
Use something other than a web browser pointing to twitter.com to access your tweets. For a desktop or laptop, I highly recommend TweetDeck for your Windows laptop /desktop computer and the hootsuite app for your iPhone, iPad or Android. (If you’ve got a favorite solution for other hardware, I hope you’ll leave a comment below, thanks.) These programs have something in common: columns. (Well, they’re called streams in hootsuite. How fitting.). Columns are filters that take the gushing river of incoming tweets and break it into drinkable streams.
In both hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can have separate columns for
- home feed – the full Twitter river of tweets from all people you follow
- @mentions – never miss another tweet sent @you that flies by in your home feed
- DMs – your private, direct messages are pulled aside so you don’t miss them
- sent tweets – I like to have these handy so I can see who and what I’ve recently tweeted
- any Twitter list you’ve created – you can put anyone you follow onto a list you’ve made up, like “#etmooc folks”, “education folks”, “hockey fans”, “conference attendees” and so on. These lists are part of your Twitter profile housed at twitter.com so both TweetDeck and hootsuite can access them. That means if I add someone to a list while using TweetDeck, she’ll be on the list when I look at in hootsuite.
- any search term – this is very powerful because you can create a column that fishes from the Twitter River every tweet with a particular hashtag, like #etmooc, #etmchat or #thatfunnyhashtageveryoneistalkingabout
I have about a dozen columns in TweetDeck and hootsuite that filter all my incoming tweets into easy-to-access streams.
Step 2: Create a First list
Once you get going on Twitter, it’s hard to stop following people – they are all so damn interesting! Even with lists and #hashtag columns, there may still be hundreds of tweets flowing by. Sometimes it feels like you can’t jump out of a Twitter chat because you’ll miss something important. Here’s my next best piece of advice, a trick I learned from Derek Bruff @derekbruff.
Make a list called First (or something memorable) of the handful of people whose every tweet you feel you need to read. You don’t want to miss anything these people say. (It’s a good idea to make this list private – you don’t want any awkward conversations, “How come I’m not on your first list? Aren’t I important enough?”) Then open a TweetDeck column or a hootsuite stream using your First list. Every time you go back online, you can quickly and completely read your First list. Jump out and jump back in? No problem, your First list has all the important tweets.
Enjoy your drink
Some software with columns and a First list will organize your incoming tweets and remove all the burden of keeping up. It makes following a chat like #etmchat simple because you don’t have to continually pick out the chat tweets from the rest of the river flowing by. Instead, you can devote all your cognitive load to participating in the chat and joining the community.
Do you have any other tips for wading through the Twitter River without drowning? Drop a comment below. Or tweet me at @polarisdotca – I’ll see it!