Sociology in the Twittersphere
by Jackie Cooper, ASA Public Information Office
It seems that everyone is a-twitter these days over the online social media darling Twitter (see www.twitter.com). According to a May 2009 report by marketing research company comScore, Twitter logged an estimated 32 million visitors worldwide in April, surpassing the number of monthly unique visitors to the website of The New York Times, among other popular sites. The evidence of Twitter’s growing popularity is potentially much stronger, however, since the comScore data does not account for those who "tweet" using mobile phones, desktop applications, or other websites.
So what is Twitter? It is a service that allows users to broadcast short (up to 140 characters) text updates known as "tweets." Tweets can be sent via the Twitter website or through a desktop application, an instant message, or text message via cell phone. Others can subscribe to a user’s updates using the "follow" function.
A number of current and budding sociologists are already using Twitter to communicate with their social networks and the Twittersphere. A partial list of Twitter users with an interest in sociology may be found at wefollow.com/tag/sociology. Twitter also has a search function that allows users to search for people by e-mail address or name.
ASA and Twitter
Recognizing the power of this tool and the increasing use of Twitter by the media, ASA’s Public Information Office established a Twitter profile earlier this year under the username "ASAnews." ASAnews tweets provide followers with information about the latest sociological research from ASA journals, links to sociologists in the news, and updates on relevant news from the association.
Twitter posts allow ASA to simultaneously alert various communities (both sociological and non-sociological) of newsworthy happenings and material in an efficient one-stop manner. A number of sociologists currently follow our updates, in addition to reporters from media outlets such as Newsweek, The New York Times, Discovery News, CNN, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Social Science Research News blog. ASA members who use Twitter are encouraged to follow ASAnews, although anyone with Internet access can view the public information office’s updates at www.twitter.com/asanews.
ASAnews will be tweeting about research presented at the 2009 ASA Annual Meeting, and meeting attendees are encouraged to tweet from the meeting as well to highlight noteworthy presentations or to share and discuss ideas. These updates can be used as a note-taking tool and also present an opportunity to share proceedings with absent colleagues or connect virtually with other meeting attendees. Attendees can use mobile phones to text updates to Twitter. Internet access will also be available for those wishing to tweet using a computer. ASA is providing free wifi access in Yosemite Hall at the Hilton San Francisco, as well as a free cybercafé with hardwired Internet access in the meeting’s registration area. Guest rooms in the Hilton also have free Internet access.
Contexts magazine will be hosting a website that aggregates tweets from the meeting. To have updates posted on the Contexts site (www.contexts.org/asa), Twitter users writing about the meeting should use the hashtag #asa09. Hashtags (text following the # symbol) signal that a tweet relates to that particular topic. Hashtags make it easier for users to search for popular topics, and the most popular topics get listed by Twitter under a sidebar on the website for "Trending Topics." Meeting attendees and sociologists back at home can visit the Contexts site to get a feel for the hot topics generating discussion at the annual meeting.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently wrote about the benefits and drawbacks of Twitter at academic conferences in a May 26 article. The article referenced a paper presented at the annual EduMedia Conference in Salzburg, Austria, titled "How People Are Using Twitter during Conferences." For more details, read the paper at lamp.tu-graz.ac.at/~i203/ebner/publication/09_edumedia.pdf. Happy tweeting!