Tweeting NECC

Twitter on the front page of Time MagazineYesterday, while waiting in line at the Harris Teeter, with the various items Brenda had texted to me, I was mesmerized by the Time Magazine cover to the right. So is Twitter “…changing the way we live?” I was awakened when the cashier started waving her arms to get my attention and as she checked through the milk, broccoli and my special blend of nuts and rice crisps, I mentioned that I was intrigued by the Time cover story on Twitter. She said, “I don’t do it. I don’t even know what it is.”

So it probably isn’t changing the way that we live, in any substantial way, but it is a very useful, and for many, a very essential tool for sharing and learning.

There are many ways to describe Twitter — none of them foolproof. But in the context of this series, it would probably be most useful to say that Twitter is micro-blogging. When we blog, we type what we want to say into a textbox, submit or publish it, and our message is available to a global audience.

Twitter works exactly the same way with just a few differences. First, and perhaps foremost, Twitter messages (or tweets) are limited to 140 characters. So the messages are short, taking little time to write and little time to read. Another distinguishing feature is that you can not comment on tweets in the same way that you can with blogs. However, you can reply to specifics tweets, which automatically places @tweeter in the message, tweeter being the user name of the person who posted the original statement.

Another important difference is that although tweets are technically available to a global audience, under most circumstances, the only people who automatically receive your tweets are people who have clicked to “Follow” you. This concept has created an interesting authority dynamic, where your “importance” is based on the number of followers you have compared to the number of people you follow. The formula is flawed in a number of ways. For instance, I do not follow very many people, 62 at present. So my importance is deceptively high. But it is interesting, none-the-less, this sense of measuring and drawing meaning from our information landscape.

So, the first thing you have to do is to set up a Twitter account. Here is a YouTube video that will walk you through the process. It’s easy.

The second thing to do is to start following some people. There are a number of services on the Internet that can help you find people to follow. Twellow is essentially a directory of Twitter users. Click [Browse] and then click [Education]. This reveals a number of subcategories, such as e-learning, educational toys, teachers, librarians, etc. If you are a librarian, clicking that subcategory will list the nearly 5,000 school librarian Twitter users, listed in order of their number of followers, so those at the top of the list, with thousands of followers, may be good folks to follow — initially.

Another service called Twits Like Me actually match the nature of your tweets to those of others, intelligently suggesting potential friends to follow. Make sure you are logged in to Twitter, and then type your username into the Twits Like Me textbox and click [Who is Like Me]. The service kept timing out for me so there may be a significant problem with the service — or it may have just been me. You might also try MrTweet. I’ve only just signed on, so we’ll see how it goes.

For the purpose of the upcoming National Education Computing Conference, we can find people who are already tweeting about it, by going to Twitter Search. This is a search engine for the Twitterverse, and typing in necc with a click of the [Search] button reveals a list of the most recent Twitter messages that mention the four letter string. Scan the messages, looking for people of interest. Click their usersname and in most cases you be able to read all of their recent tweets. If it looks like someone who might help you have a better NECC experience, then click the [Follow] button just beneath their icon.

..and here is the power of Twitter — that the entire conversation can be searched for the latest that is being said on virtually any topic. And if you have been following me, you’ve probably already trained your eyes to catch the little orange RSS symbol. So we can follow tweets related to NECC as well as blogs. Below is my NECC Netvibes page with NECC tweets coming in.

netvibes2.png Following your Twitter conversations can be difficult. Fortunately, you are not limited to continuously updating the Twitter web page. There are a number of third-party applications, Twitter apps, that monitor your Twitter account for you, notifying you of new tweets from friends. The Twitter web site has a listing of applications here, one of which I am especially fond of, called Tweetdeck. In fact, I think I learned about this application at NECC last year.

Tweetdeck offers versions that run on Macs, Windows, Linux (a bit of a bear to install), and now for the iPhone. Like most clients, it will list tweets from the people who follow you, and enable you to post your tweets through the application. However, Tweetdeck is unique in that you can create additional panels to list other categories of tweets, such as replies to your tweets, your direct tweets (Twitter message posted directly and privately to another users — d username). You can also have a panel for specific Twitter search results and Tweetdeck recently added Facebook status updates. The application pretty much takes over your entire screen and adds to my near-constant lament — “Too many channels!”

tweetdecksmall.jpg But, hands down, Twitter will make NECC a more valuable experience for one and all.

Gathering the Conversation at NECC

Human Aggregator
Is NECC a Human Aggregator

Flick Photo by Kevin Jarrett

I wrote yesterday that if blogging…

…was, then blogging would be little more than a bunch of web pages posted on the Web — thousands per minute.  There is some sophistication behind the simplicity of blogging that kicks up its value, especially when blogging around a common topic or experience.

No truer statement have I made, ’cause thar be magic in them thar hills.  First, it should be no surprise that the blogosphere (where blogs live) can be searched.  Google has an excellent and fairly thorough blog search engine, Google Blog Search.  Or you can just go to Google, do your search for web sites, then click down the [more] menu and select [blog].

A search for necc09 reveals 3,701 blog posts that mention term, at the moment of this writing, sorted by relevance.  I can click [Sort by date] in the upper right corner and get a list from the most recent – backward — topped by an entry posted nine minutes ago.  A few minutes ago, I posted a tweet (more about tweeting in my next BloggingNECC post):

I wonder what it would be like to follow the “swarm” at NECC. Just go where others are going & not look at the program.

In a sense, this is what we can do, during and after the event — we can follow the swarm around by reading their notes, and even engaging the swarm through comments.  Dave Sifry, the CEO of Technorati, says that “…the blogosphere is the exhaust of our attention streams.” We have never been able to do this before, take what you and I are paying attention to and lay it down onto the record.  Sifry continues, “…they are a tangible reflection on what we are spending our time and attention on.” ((Sifry, David. “Oct 2004 State of the blogosphere: Big Media vs. Blogs.” [Weblog Sifry’s Alerts] 14 Oct 2004. Technorati, Inc. 23 Sep 2008 <http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/000247.html>. )) ..and it is recorded, accessible, and measurable — in some pretty astounding and revealing ways.  But more on that later.

What we get from Google is blog postings that included necc09, which in this case is pretty useful.  But if I go to Technorati and type the same thing, I get the 66 most recent blog posts.  If I drop down the second menu in the search line, and select [tags only], I get the latest 26 blog posts where the blogger tagged or labeled their blog with necc09.  If I drop down the third menu and select [some authority], we get, at this writing, the 22 most recent blog posts that mention necc09, written by bloggers who are respected by other bloggers.  Your authority is measured by Technorati through the number of other bloggers who have linked to your blog.  This is a bit of a slippery thing as there are lots of reasons why a blog may link to your blog.  However, this appears to be reasonably reliable way of measuring a bloggers creds.

The coolest part of all of this is a little symbol just above and to the right of the search results (see right).  The symbol stands for RSS, which is usually translated into Really Simple SyndicationThe original meaning is so esoterically technical that no one remembers what it is. As you move your mouse over the symbol, it turns into a button-clicking finger, meaning that it is a hyperlink to something.  The address of the hyperlink is important.  It is the RSS feed, and in this case, it looks like this:

http://feeds.technorati.com/search/necc09?type=search&authority=a4&language=n

This box lists the most recent blog posts that mention NECC09 from bloggers with some authority (click the image to enlarge it)

With this URL, you can do some pretty magical things.  For instance, I can go to a web site called Netvibes, set up an account (click [signup]), create a new tab, called NECC 2009 (click [New Tab] and type NECC 2009), and then click [Add content] in red in the top left corner of the page.  Click our RSS symbol, and paste the URL (above) into the appearing textbox.  After a moment a small “FEED” box appears.  We click [add], or drag the box into our window space, and presto (see left).

A single web page to catch the latest blogs about this year’s NECC (click the image to enlarge it.)

We might go through the same process to list bloggers with any degree of authority and add a second box listing the latest blog entries.  We could even drop back to Googles Blog Search, search again for NECC09, and get a reference to RSS in the left panel.  Add that one in (see right).

The result is a single web page that we can visit to catch the latest that is being written about this year’s National Education Computing Conference, starting in three days in Washington.

If we are also interested in the happenings at the third annual EduBloggerCon, held on Saturday at the conference site, we can do a Google Blog Search for EduBloggerCon, move that RSS feed over to Netvibes, and we have added yet another box, the latest being written about the bloggers’ gathering (see below).

There are many tools similar to Netvibes, which are generically called aggregators or RSS readers.  Here is a very limited list of free readers to choose from:

Tool URL Instructions
Google Reader http://google.com/reader Here is a three part YouTube video series: part 1, part 2, (by Liz Davis) part 3 (GR in Plain English)
Bloglines http://bloglines.com/ YouTube video about setting up and using Bloglines from
Pageflakes http://pageflakes.com/ Another YouTube Video about setting up and using PageFlakes.
Netvibes http://netvibes.com/ A YouTube Video about setting up and using Netvibes.

Most Browsers can also incorporate RSS feeds.

You can even geek this out and display RSS feeds on your web page or blog.  Using Feed2JS, a tool, brilliantly coded by Alan Levine, we can generate a Java script, plug it into our web page (or blog entry) to generate a list of the 10 latest blog posts that mention edubloggercon.  He has made his tool distributable, so here is the version on Landmarks for Schools.

This is magical, in my opinion.  We are able to not only access flows of information, be actually redirect it, re-combine it, further working the information to make it more valuable and to improve our own capabilities.  It turns an event, such as an education conference, into an explosion of knowledge and experiences.  It’s how we learn in the 21st century.

It’s a huge part of how teachers teach!

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NECC09 Blogs

NECC bloggers, Posted on Flickr by Craig Nansen

A common feature of some of the most successful Web 2.0 applications is their simplicity, and nothing has demonstrated this more than blogging.  Blogger.com, a free blogging platform from Pyra Labs, was launched on August 23, 1999. (( Yassar, Isaac. “The History of Blogger (www.blogger.com).” [Weblog Isaac Yassar’s Blog] 6 Mar 2009. Web.24 Jun 2009. <http://isaacyassar.blogspot.com/2009/03/history-of-blogger.html>. ))  Suddenly, anyone with access to a computer and the Internet, and the slightest typing skills, could publish to the world — for free.  Type the title of your article into a textbox, type your article, click [Publish], and your words are available to a global readership.  The simplicity is its power and its impact has been profound.

Many people at NECC will be blogging.  129 people have already registered with the NECC web site as conference bloggers.  Many more will be blogging more casually, simply as a way of recording their experience and notes about what they are learning, for their own record or to share with colleagues at home. 

If you already have a blog, you can register it on the NECC site by filling in a form.  In fact, there are usually a handful of people who blog the conference without being there at all — but writing about the blog articles posted by people who are there — filtering in the best.

If you do not yet have a blog, it is surprisingly easy to set one up.  Here is a list of the blogging platforms I usually recommend in my presentations and workshops.  They are all easy to set up, easy to use (though they offer many sophisticated features), and they are reliable services.  There is also a link to instructions and/or a video on how to set up an account.

Blogging Service Setup Page

Instructions

 Blogger.com You can start your account here.  This will create a Google account for you as well.  If you already have a Google account, then go here first to sign in. YouTube video instructions
WordPress.com WordPress.comword is a free blog hosting service using the WordPress blogging software, an open source software package that you can download and install on your own server if you have one. You can start your own free WordPress.com account here. YouTube video tutorial
Edublogs.org Edublogs is another free blog hosting site using WordPress. It was created by James Farmer and is intended for educators only. A video tutorial from the EduBlogs site

I have also been playing around with Blogsome, a free WordPress hosting site out of Ireland, and enjoying it. There are other opportunities, including blogging with Ning. Ning is a service that allows users to establish facebook-style social networks, and NECC has one that can be joined by joining Ning. All NECC Ning members automatically get a blog, but there may be a disadvantage here. NING blogs may not show up on blog searches, which may suit you fine, but would not serve the broader expanding conference experience.

Tagging your Blogs

If this was all there was, then blogging would be little more than a bunch of web pages posted on the Web — thousands per minute.  There is some sophistication behind the simplicity of blogging that kicks up its value, especially when blogging around a common topic or experience. 

Tagging is the key and it involves applying tags or labels to your blog (or other published media).  Many conferences have established tags, though NECC does not seem to have established one this year.  That is not a problem as it is usually pretty simple.  NECC is a good tag, though it will include all NECCs, not just the 2009 event.  So NECC09 or NECC2009 are also good tags.  The safe bet is to use all three.  It is also a pretty good idea to tag the session you are blogging.  I usually use the last name of the main presenter.  But tags should be a single word that you believe others might search for if they were interested in the event or presentation.

Much of the time, simply including the tag in the body of your blog is enough.  But there is a syntax to blogging that some information gathering services on the Internet prefer.  Most blogging services include a feature for entering your tags and it will create the syntax for you.  But there are online tools and a variety of widgets that will do the same for you.  I have a tool, that is part of Landmarks for schools, called Blog Tag Generator

There are three steps for using Blog Tag Generator:

  1. Click the image to enlarge

    Type the tags (necc, necc09, necc2009) into the first text box.  If you are using phrases (21st century skills), then enclose it with quotes.

  2. Click [submit].  This will generate the code syntax for your blog, which will appear in the larger textbox.  Highlight and copy this code.  Got to your blog, click to see the source or html (you may to look for this button) and then past the code at the bottom of your blog.
  3. Type the URL of your blog into the third textbox and click [ping].  this will cause Technorati, a major blog indexing service, to capture and record your blog.
Click image to enlarge

This last part has gotten a little technical, and it is certainly optional.  But I will explain its value in the next post of this series.

One more note: You are not required to wait until you reach NECC in Washington to start blogging it.  Technorati has already indexed 33 posts with necc09 and 18 with necc2009.  Google has indexted more than 3,000.

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How to Web 20 your NECC 09

Candid Photos of the Bloggers’ Cafe Phenom by Sharon Peters tagged necc2007

Blogging NECC is an excellent thing to do for lots of reasons.  First of all, it is a useful way to take and keep your notes from sessions you attend, appealing products you find in the exhibit hall, and people you mean and conversations you have.  Blogging NECC is also a wonderful way to share with colleagues at home your new-found knowledge, friends, and insights.  Blogging NECC also earn creds — it will get you read.

Thusfar, by “blogging,” I mean any journalistic recording of experiences at the international conference that might be discovered by other people — and discovery by other people is exactly what you should be striving for.  Blogging conferences adds a new and potent dimension to the event.  It extends the knowledge and energy generated by the conference beyond its geography and its time.  Networking a conference also extends your experience by giving you a variety of perspectives.  You are not only able to visit presentations and workshops you were not able to bodily attend, by reading the bloggings of those who were; but you are also able to re-attend sessions that you did experience, by reading the bloggings of others in the room.

With a few days at home, and a semblance of routine, I plan to write a series of blog posts to help you extend the conference experience, utilizing your laptop, cell phone, and free tools available for registration or downloading.  We will look specifically at blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter), and photo-blogging (Flickr).  If there is another W2 avenues to cover, please comment it here.  If you want to add your own insights and tutorials, link them here and/or tag your blogs with bloggingnecc.

See you in Washington.

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