You are here

Don't Have Time to Tweet-bollocks! Twitter can even save you time as a scientist.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Twitter. You hear scientists saying all the time “I would like to tweet but I just don’t have the time.”

“I am afraid that it will be a waste of time as my efforts will get lost in a sea of tweets.”

Bollocks!

As a scientist you do have the time to use Twitter. In fact, what you’ll read below is how to use Twitter to save you time.

How much time do you spend searching for something on Google? How good is Google at finding content you want to read? You’ll probably say pretty good, because it is the best search engine out there. In fact, you could reasonably argue that only a knowledgeable librarian could outperform Google in finding what you want.

That is exactly the point. To this day the human mind is still the best and most efficient computer available.

With all the computing power available, it is remarkable that when you go through a security checkpoint at an airport it is still a person you looks at the images of the x-ray scan of your bags.

Humans are very good at discriminating. This is exactly why a knowledgeable librarian at your beckon call would be wonderful.

This is also the beauty of Twitter. It can be a highly efficient way to harness the discriminating power of the human mind.

4 Facts about Twitter that make it a unique tool

1) You choose who feeds you information. 2) The 140 character limit for a tweet eliminates long winded babble. 3) Good content is propagated rapidly, bad content is not 4) 18% of users have an advanced degree (18% of 500 million or 90 million).

Fact is Twitter is great collection of brain power. You have probably gone to many scientific conferences. Why do you go? To find out what others are doing and thinking about. Twitter can do that for you every day.

Configuring Twitter to be the best search engine – ever

The best tweets are those that contain content. Now technically they all contain content, but many contain ‘fluffy’ content.

@Mr_I_am_Great “I am in London, going to the Museum of Natural History.”

Who cares?

Maybe you do if you want to avoid Mr. I am Great. Likely even if it is someone who is a leader in a field you probably don’t care about what he or she is doing on a particular day. You also probably don’t care about tweets that are some sort of private conversation.

Step 1

Don’t follow anyone who tweets like this. Actively unfollow those that do make it to your list of followers.

Step 2

Search on topics you are interested in read their profiles, read a few of their tweets if they pass the test of Step 1 above – follow them

Everyone in Twitter can make a profile. Those who are particularly savvy chose a set of topics they are going to tweet about and describe that in their profile. Twitter allows you to search using keywords.

Step 3

Repeat step 1 and 2 for 5 minutes a day until you are following about 100 people

Step 4

Look at your twitter timeline for 5 minutes a day and refine according to the principles of Step 1 & 2. But now be ruthless. If someone is tweeting something you don’t care about – unfollow them.

After 2-3 weeks you will find that interesting articles, blog posts and news items just appear in your Twitter timeline.

*Caution – This is where it can get dangerous. Once you have Twitter finding you great web content you will suddenly have more to read online than you can handle.

How Twitter saves time

Here is where the time savings comes in. You have now in effect a 5 minute a day review of your field. You don’t have to wade through an irrelevant table of contents, or struggle with an online search through abstracts of marginal articles that should not have been published in the first place.

Twitter will allow you to harness the discriminative power of your peers making your efforts to stay up to date in your field highly efficient.

Now maybe you don’t keep up in your field, so yes in this case it won’t save you time. You’ll have to spend an extra 5 minutes a day on Twitter.

You may even find that you don’t have to spend a lot of effort finding references for your next paper. With Twitter they will just come to you. It is unlikely that this will happen to a sufficient degree at the exact moment you need them, but over time this is very likely the case.

It does mean however that you should find a way to organize your browsing experience. It is easy to leave a webpage without doing much more than reading it. Or you follow a link and end up on another page forgetting to mark down the interesting article you just read on another page. Prevent the experience of later remembering how good the article was, but not what journal or who the author was - use a webpage clipping tool.

Evernote is one of the more popular tools. It allows you to save a page in its entirety, a piece of it or just the link. You can use different notebooks to organize you clippings and add tags to categorize what you find. Give this a whirl.

Social media is no good on your own

If you were the only scientist on social media it wouldn’t be of much use, in fact it would not be social media. It is not like a special technique or a unique database. The more scientists that use and contribute to social media the more and more useful it becomes.

So, you should not only use Twitter to find interesting content, you should contribute and get every scientist you know to contribute. You publish a new paper, you tweet it, and voila all the people you collaborate with and those who you don’t collaborate with know about it are thinking about it right away. It also puts you in the mind of many future potential reviewers. You don’t need to be told that a paper published in the back of a journal that no-one reads does not move the field forward.

More importantly you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how much time is wasted when a reviewer ignorant of your previous work wrongly rejects your article or grant.

Get every scientist you know to tweet.

Oh, ja. If you are already using Twitter, tweet this post.

Scott Wagers blogs at www.assembledchaos.com where you can get a free guide to social media.