Building a Better Backchannel

People often ask me, How do you have time to blog? Today’s posts offer one answer to that question. Here’s another post adapted from an email I sent today..

Last week here on the blog, I posted a summary of the Twitter backchannel at the recent POD Network / HBCU Faculty Development Network joint conference. I shared this post with the POD Network conference team, one of whom suggested that the Google Docs archive of conference tweets might be more useful if each tweet was categorized somehow.  Meanwhile, over on Twitter, Wendy Robinson reminded me of a THATCamp conversation on backchannels in which I participated this summer:

@ I hadn't realized you were in the discussion I followed from a distance last spring!
Wendy Robertson

As that tweet indicates, the conversation on backchannels was archived on Storify (by Leeann Hunter). Looking over this Storify archive, I was reminded that I floated an interesting idea about improving backchannels:

Here's an idea for better backchannels: We have an indicator for amplification, "RT." What abt indicators for other "moves"? #thatcamp
Derek Bruff

Categorizing conference tweets after the conference doesn’t strike me as practical (unless the job is done via crowdsourcing, as Jim Julius suggested for another backchannel analysis task). But what if we followed up on my idea from the summer to develop shorthands for categorizing conference-related tweets to be used within the tweets themselves?

For example, “RT” is an established shorthand for a “retweet,” which is a form of amplification.  Might we develop other shorthands for other “moves” one makes in a conference backchannel?  For instance, we might use a #sum tag for tweets that summarize remarks made by speakers, a #com tag for tweets that offer commentary on a speaker’s remarks, and a #res tag for tweets that share links to resources related to conference sessions. See my “Backchannel in Education – Nine Uses” post for ideas for other possible “moves.”

These conventions would enhance backchannel archives, in a way similar to that described by my colleague on the conference team.  One could filter by these tags, so that one could see, for instance, just the tweets that shared resources or just the tweets that summarized a speaker’s remarks.  It might be interesting to create a word cloud of #sum tags and compare it to a word cloud of #com tags, as another example.

During the conference, these conventions would reduce confusion, particularly around the attribution of ideas. It’s sometimes hard to know if an idea shared in a tweet during a keynote is an idea suggested by the speaker or by the tweeter. The #sum and #com tags would make this more clear.

I’m not sure if this strategy would work at a conference the size of the POD Network conference, given how many people would have to adopt these conventions.  It might be easier to implement at a smaller conference.  On the other hand, the POD community would be game for this kind of experiment, I think.

What do you think about this idea? Are there contexts in which (a) people would be willing to adopt these conventions and (b) there would be some utility in doing so?

Image: “A Decent Roll,” kfergos, Flickr (CC)

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