Nobel Prize in Chemistry: 140 characters or less

Brian Kobilka gave a talk at University of Washington just two weeks after his Nobel Prize announcement. I will write about my experience live-tweeting his talk; why I think it is important to do it, and why you should put all the information together in a single place afterwards. To learn about Kobilka’s amazing work and G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) I recommend you to check the Nobel Prize announcement and Ash Jogalekar blog post at Scientific American.

What is the value of live-tweeting scientific talks?

Live-tweeting engages multiple voices, widens audiences, and builds communities. Every person in the audience has a unique perspective. Reading a stream of tweets from a talk is more than reading a timeline; a live-twitter stream carries multiple perspectives, each one accentuating the parts of the talk that affected each person. People outside the auditorium will track the hashtag associated with the talk and become part of the audience themselves. It is not uncommon to start dialogs or to share relevant links using the same hashtag. Pretty soon you find yourself in a community of people with similar interest exchanging information on Twitter.

How do you start live-tweeting?

First check if the talk is open to the public. If it is not open to the public, ask the organizers and the speaker about their policies for live-tweeting. The key for starting live-tweeting is to find the right hashtag. Some speakers may have a hashtag for you to use, making the first step of live-tweeting very easy. But very often you need to come up with the right hashtag. Try to make it short, clear, and unambiguous. Try searching for keywords related to the talk and see if other people is live-tweeting with you. In Kobilka’s talk I started using #ChemNobel2012 but soon realized that @MillerLab was using #KobilkaSeminar. I started using both hashtags to merge the Twitter streams and then felt very relaxed knowing that other person was there to help cover the content-heavy talk.

Even if the organizers give you a hashtag you should follow the stream to check if there is no interference with other Twitter conversations. For example, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center “Monster Seminar JAM” was happening the same day as the #MonsterJam concert in Boston, so I switched hashtag mid-talk. Don’t be afraid to switch hashtags during the talk, but communicate this change as clearly as possible to the Twitter audience.

Live-tweeting is simple: set the stage and introduce the subject and the hashtag with the first tweet. Add the Twitter handlers of the speaker and organizers if they have one. Pay attention to the talk, check the Twitter stream periodically. Use quotation marks if you are quoting directly, and make sure to let people know when the talk is over.

Why is important to collect the tweets afterwards?

We live in an era of short attention span, it is hard to get pass the headline and to get complex knowledge. We give the first engagement in Tweeter a place for growth by building a timeline or topic list with more information to click. The fast-moving Twitter feed is replaced by a place where you can take your time, gain perspective, and review contrasting opinions. Make sure you add context and explanations, and links for the original data and figures, if possible.

I use Storify as a tool to curate content of talks and to add some useful links. The software is quite intuitive and the results look professional. If you are curious you can view the story “Kobilka: Structural insights into the dynamic process of G protein-coupled receptor activation.” on Storify.

I hope you consider to start live-tweeting the next public talk you attend. If you do it, have fun!

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