Twitter (and Information Science)

lynxi Sigh… Sarah Brown has over 160,000 followers … I have 5 – which just goes to show that Trooping the Colour is much more interesting than information science – ha! and looking directly east, away from London out of my attic, I can watch all the aircraft heading west, in formation, towards the celebrations – but I remain undaunted and have been thinking how the twittersphere or twitterverse is really a giant database of thoughts, and that this fits so nicely into our model of information communication, the journey of an idea between an author and a user. At the edge of this model is the transition area between informal and formal information – the point at which information moves from being inside somebody’s mind (therefore unretrievable, Popper’s World II ) to being recorded in some way (Popper’s World I) , and therefore, potentially at least, retrievable and communicable to others (Popper’s World  III).

Information science looks at factors affecting the communication chain, and information technology is a key mover and shaker, regularly changing the ways by which information is disseminated. Internet technology works away at the boundary between what remains informal, and what becomes published – because technology (web2.0 especially) makes recording and communication of thoughts much easier. I first looked at this around 10 years ago, as part of my PhD (yep – time goes so quickly..) when I was interested in changing patterns of publication and dissemination within the field of toxicology. Use of electronic media by toxicology authors was an emerging phenomenon; toxicologists, like other traditional biomedical specialists, clung on to the tried and trusted mechanism of pre-prints, conference presentation, full publication in a refereed journal, then an abstract in an indexing service, and eventually, a summary account in a mainstream text. Bulletin boards, web sites and  webrings facilited much faster, and easier publication of even initial thoughts however, and there was already evidence that they were extending and reshaping the dissemination model to include many more previously ‘informal’ thoughts.

Fast forward 10 years: we have blogs, podcasts, vidcasts, wikis, shared media sites, rss, sms, and social networking. All nudging us into confessing every innermost thought on a regular basis. We need news, constantly. Technology does not have to read our minds by itself though, we divulge the information willing; publish or be ignored. And so back to Twitter – “What are you doing ?”  Right now – because everyone wants to know. All these thoughts are committed to the giant twitterverse database, for future reference and retrieval. We know what you’re thinking.