Last Friday the Hawke’s Bay Tweetup (#hbtweetup) was kindly hosted by The Crossing restaurant. The lovely drinks and positively gorgeous food were enjoyed by all the Hawke’s Bay tweeps. But The Crossing offered us another benefit, a data projector, discovered a week before during my reccie. The wonderfully hospitable Richard gave us a code for the wireless and after hooking up a laptop, we had our first #hbtweetup twitterwall.
It was a little distracting at times. In fact at the start of the evening conversation was a little slower than usual as we were mesmerized by the stream, like budgies by a mirror. However, as people became used to it, it became a natural part of the evening’s interactions. Jokes were made via the wall, apologies received, contact with the outside world established with tweets coming from the rest of the Bay, other tweetups in Rotorua and Hamilton, and even from Canada and Australia (we love you too @courosa and @marksmithers).
Why have a Twitterwall at your tweetup?
Most people who attend tweetups bring their own Smartphone which will let them access Twitter via their Twitter apps. However participants have to disengage from the conversation in front of them, to check the digital conversation only available in their pocket. Projecting the Twitterstream on the wall brings the digital conversation into the room in a much more accessible form, allowing the two conversation streams to blend better.
Where else can you use a Twitterwall?
There are of course many applications for a Twitterwall, but here’s three I would encourage people to use in my own education context.
Conferences: this is where I’ve seen Twitterwalls used the most. At a conference you bring together anywhere between 100-300 experts (or even more) on a certain topic. Traditionally only 20-40 people at that conference would be heard from, the presenters. The opinions/contributions/comments/questions of the other attendees were either locked in their own notes, or maybe shared with a few of the people they spoke to at coffee or lunch. The great thing about Twitter and similar tools is that it brings those contributions out into the open, available to conference participants and the wider world in a many-to-many conversation, often referred to as the backchannel.
Lecture theatre: The backchannel function described above can easily be applied to teaching large groups. Projecting students’ tweets on a wall can stimulate discussions, illicit contributions and provide information sharing on a scale impossible in a traditional lecture. Do view the video The Twitter Experiment if you want to see how this has been put in action at the University of Texas.
Learning spaces: If you have open learning spaces in your institution, you may want to set up monitors displaying a Twitterwall, allowing learning services, librarians, IT services and others, to share information as well as students & teachers. In this way, the Twitterwall can become a support mechanism for a vibrant learning community.
What tools to use?
On Friday night we switched between four of my favourite Twitterwall tools. Most Twitterwall tools provide you with a set up screen and then allow you to go to full screen mode for use at events.
Visible Tweets: without doubt the prettiest. It displays individual tweets, which can fall into view either in a rotation motion or letter by letter, you choose. The background colour cycles softly through the colours of the rainbow. It’s good for sharing information snippets, but not so good for following a conversation. I thought it was the least intrusive of the four tools we experimented with.
Wiffiti: recently demonstrated to me by @moodleman at the Skills Tasmania conference. It shows about 6-8 random tweets at one time but reaches back about 4 hours in the stream to source them. However it does seem to show more recent tweets more often. The tweets jump into place quite nicely. And it’s easy to see the Twitter user who posted the tweet. This tool is a little better for following a conversation. You can save your wall for future use once set up. A drawback is that it displays mobile numbers that can be used for texting to it. However these don’t work in NZ. I’m not sure in which country they do work.
Twitterfountain: This tool has many settings, allowing you to customize your wall quite a bit. It’s very attractive as it rotates fullscreen pictures behind the tweets. These are sourced from Flickr or Picasa. We did try this on Friday, but none of our uploaded tagged pictures ever appeared on the wall. Tweets appear in a kind of dynamic waterfall which is appealing. However they do cycle, so it’s not a linear representation of the conversation. Also, make sure you set to speed to quite low, as it can lead to motion sickness.
Twitterfall: Probably allows for the most tailoring of the Twitter stream. Tweets can be restricted by geolocation and tweets can be excluded from the stream based on keywords. It displays tweets in a linear, chronological fashion. However, of all the tools mentioned here, Twitterfall is probably the least visually appealing.
Two others Twitterwall tools I like
Tweetwally: Has an interface that is very similar to a regular Twitter page, so recognisable for participants. This is the only Twitterwall tool I know of which shows Twitpic & Yfrog pictures in line with the tweets, making it a visual and a text-based communication tool. It also shows tweets in a linear chronological fashion making it easy to follow the conversation stream. My only hesitation would be that the tweets take up quite a bit of space on the page, meaning you see less of the conversation. You can sign in with your Twitter account and save the wall for future use.
Monitter: Is a very clean, simple looking linear Twitterwall. Tweets are displayed so quite a few fit on one page, making it easy to follow the conversation. Profile pics are large making it easy to recognise the contributors. Monitter allows the setup of several parallel columns to display several different streams on one screen. This is something the other tools don’t have. Another nice feature is the ability to restrict tweets shown based on geography.
If you have other Twitterwall tools you favour or ideas on how to use them, please share them below.