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Originally published at Science 2.

0 for TEL workshop, ECTEL

2009 Conference, Nizza

Social networking in scientific conferences –

Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific

Martin Ebner1 and Wolfgang Reinhardt2

Graz University of Technology, Faculty of Computer Science, Inffeldgasse 16b,
8010 Graz, Austria
University of Paderborn, Institute of Computer Science, Fuerstenallee 11,
33102 Paderborn Germany

Abstract. Twitter is the fastest growing member community of the

last year. With a rate of 1382% it grows 6 times faster than for example
the world biggest social networking application Facebook. In this paper
we ask how Twitter can serve as resource at scientific conferences and
support the scientific community. Furthermore we ask if Twitter ads any
scientific value to conferences. We chose this year ED-MEDIA conference
as example for the use of Twitter at a scientific conference and show
how the micro-blogging tool got seamlessly integrated in the well-known
communication infrastructure of conferences.

Key words: scientific communities, twitter, dynamics of communities,

visualization, science 2.0

1 Introduction

Since Tim O’Reilly [14] announced for the very first time the term Web 2.0 and
described a new way to dealing with the WorldWideWeb, a dramatically change
happened. Users working nowadays completely different, instead of mainly con-
suming information from static webpages, they play an active role, they con-
tribute, discuss and share information around the globe. Since then Social Net-
works and Social Communities are growing rapidly and aim to connect people
with same interests to enhance their daily life as well as working processes.
Stephen Downes [5] also mentioned that “Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technol-
ogy - This means there is no technological revolution, it is a social revolution”
and pointed out the importance for learning and teaching, named e-Learning 2.0.
Especially in Technology Enhanced Learning lot of research has been carried out
to foster the use of Weblogs, Wikis, Podcasts and further popular applications [4,
3, 20, 7] and to improve students’ learning behaviors. However, if we take a look
to all this great research results it can be stated that there is a great potential
by introducing Web 2.0 applications to the classroom. Furthermore emerging re-
search on the use of Mash-Ups [12], Personal Learning Environments [18], Open
Educational Resources and the use of mobile technologies for learning purposes
2 Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

give a promising future forecast. Without any doubt it does not matter if it
is called e-learning, m-Learning or even u-Learning (ubiquitous learning) [22]
the influence of technology will increase. On the one hand it can be concluded
that researchers did a lot of work to improve the daily education, but on the
other hand there are nearly no work about how such technologies can help the
researchers themselves. As Erik Duval announced on the workshop homepage
the main question we have to deal with “How could we make use of science2.0
opportunities for Technology Enhanced Learning researchers? ” [6]. In this pub-
lication the authors will concentrate about how the micro-blogging tool Twitter
can be used on scientific conferences for e-Learning scientists by presenting a
practical example. After a short introduction, the real life setting is explained
and statistical data presented.

2 Microblogging, scientific communities, and Science 2.0

Twitter is the most famous, best known and also the very first micro-blogging
platform. Micro-blogging can be seen as a new form of blogging activity and is
described by Templeton [19] as a small-scale form of blogging, generally made
up of short, succinct messages, used by both consumers and businesses to share
news, post status updates and carry on conversations. Owyang [15] describes the
difference between blogs and micro-blogs as follows: [...] long form blog posts
like this seem so much slower and plodding compared to how quickly information
can come and go in Twitter. [...] Information within Microblogging communities
[...] encourage rapid word of mouth – of both positive and negative content. In a
nutshell, micro-blogging offers a platform for the fast exchange of thoughts, ideas
and artefacts. It must be pointed out that each message cannot be longer than
a maximum of 140 characters and can put on the web easily. These messages,
so-called tweets, can be public or private, can be directed to one or more Twitter
users (identified by the @ sign) and can deal with certain topics (identified by
the # sign). By using a hashtag in tweets it is easy to aggregate all tweets
dealing with the same topic. People who are following anyone are able to read
these tweets, are able to reply or to contact the author directly. However, the
strength of this new communication and collaboration platform is that sending
and reading messages is not restricted to a web interface, it can be done also
by numerous desktop applications as well as by mobile phones. Latest statistical
data pointed out that only “only 20% of its traffic comes through the Twitter
website; the other 80% (logically) comes from third-party programs on smart
phones or computers” [2].
Communities in Twitter are forming through the usage of a common tag that
is part of the message. The CoPs on Twitter deal with brands (e.g. #apple), ed-
ucational courses (e.g. #wekm09), conferences (e.g. #edmedia) or world-shaking
events like mass riots (e.g. #iranelection). By taking a closer look to Twitter it
becomes quite useful for the fast information exchange among a community of
practice. Dealing with these ideas, that micro-blogging allows us to share, dis-
cuss and collaborate online, Twitter was introduced to different scientific confer-
Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community 3

ences. A very first experiment at ED-MEDIA Conference 2008 pointed out that
the Twitter stream can be used to display posts during the keynote speech [8]
just in time. Further research also shows how people are using Twitter during
conferences by carrying out short surveys [17]. In this publication we like to
concentrate on practical experiences and point out how Twitter performs during
a live event.

3 Twitter at the ED-MEDIA 2009 conference

ED-MEDIA is an international conference on “Educational Multimedia, Hyper-
media & Telecommunication”3 and started in 1993 as follow-up after 6 years
of International Conferences on Computers and Learning (ICCAL). The main
purpose as stated on the Webpage is to serve as a multi-disciplinary forum for
the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and
applications on all topics related to multimedia, hypermedia and telecommunica-
tion/distance education. Nowadays it is certainly one of the largest international
conferences on these topics. About 1000 participants every year attend numerous
sessions and workshops for 5 days. Two very recent publications [11, 13] pointed
out the huge amount of contributions, the relationship of authors, the key play-
ers and lots of more trends. In 2008 for the very first time Twitter was used to
support the conference by announcements and a live stream beside each keynote
talk [10]. This year, the micro-blogging channel should be much more opener by
encouraging attendees to participate. Several hints to the Twitter stream were
given beforehand the beginning of the conference as well as at the conference.

3.1 Analysis of the ED-MEDIA Twitter community

For analyzing the dynamics of the ED-MEDIA 2009 conference, we used our
tool twitterVisBT (see [16] for detailed information on the tool). The tool allows
making snapshots of the development of a community on Twitter on a regular
basis and analyzing the contents of the respective communication of the commu-
nity. We started the monitoring of the hashtag #edmedia on 2009-06-18. From
that day on, we requested Twitter every hour for the latest tweets containing this
hashtag and stored them in a local database. Figure 1 shows the development
of the number of tweets that the Twitter community sent, using the hashtag
#edmedia. Until 2009-06-30 1595 tweets containing the hashtag #edmedia were
sent to Twitter and analyzed by our application. It is clearly visible that there
is a sharp rise in the number of tweets with the beginning of the conference
workshops and the actual conference4 . The size of the ED-MEDIA Twitter com-
munity grew from 10 users on 2009-06-10 to 177 on 2009-06-30, whereas the
average daily increase of the network was 29.6% and the highest increase in the
community size was on 2009-06-24 with 87.8% growth.
3, last visited August 2009
There are some interferences between the analysis date and the actual date a tweet
was sent due to the time difference of -12 hours between Hawaii and Germany.
4 Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

Fig. 1. Number of tweets from the ED-MEDIA community on Twitter

During the storage of new tweets all occurring tags are saved and associated
with the respective users as to make statistical statements later on. In order to
make these claims about the usage of Twitter and the dynamics of the commu-
nication, we implemented a script that saves statistical data like the number of
tweets or users that used the tag on a daily basis. Furthermore we used the Ya-
hoo Term Extraction Web Service (TEWS)5 to extract the most relevant terms
or phrases from the content of the tweets. The TEWS returns a sorted list of
relevant terms and phrases, which represent the core of the daily conversation.

3.2 Visualization of the dynamics of the ED-MEDIA Twitter


The main task of the twitterVisBT application is to track the changes within
a community on Twitter (size of the community, members, other tags used,
important terms and phrases) or for a single monitored user. Our visualization
is not useful for the use as live stream of communication. There are various other
tools, which are specialized to do so. In order to make statistical claims about
the use of Twitter as a mean of communication it is sufficient to update the data
set once per hour or even once per day.
Figure 2 shows a section of the statistical part of the application. In part 2(a)
it is pictured who are the main contributors to the communication in the Twitter
channel. that way it becomes obvious that the users @mebner and @walthern
were the most active users of the community and accounted for around 24% of
5, last
visited August 2009
Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community 5

the overall communication on Twitter. Figure 2(b) shows other tags that have
been used together with the community-identifying tag #edmedia. From that it
is noticeable that the Top 10 of other tags used can be classified in two groups:
firstly location- and travel-related tags (e.g. #honolulu, #TravelToEdMedia)
and secondly tags related to the themes of the conference (e.g. #HigherEd,
#elearning, #mlearning).

(a) Visualizing users that employed the (b) Other tags that have been used to-
tag #edmedia gether with #edmedia

Fig. 2. Visualizing users and other tags used with the tag #edmedia

Besides the statistical data we try to extract and visualize the most important
terms and phrases from the daily tweets. The twitterVisBT tool holds a tab that
visualizes the most important terms from the communication on Twitter in order
to trace the centers of attention. Therefore we are using a simple word cloud
that shows the more important words larger than the less important. Under the
visualization there is a slider wherewith one can go back in time to see the data
from the past. Furthermore there is a play button that allows to automatically
browse through the daily summaries of the tweets sent6 . Figure 3 shows two
dynamic word cloud extracted from the tweets containing the hashtag #edmedia.
Figure 3(a) show the extracted terms for 2009-06-24. Stephen Downes gave his
keynote entitled “Beyond Management: The Personal Learning Environment”
on that day and talked about media innovations and how social networks can
be incorporated in a PLE. Furthermore he talked about required technological
skills and the use of media to close the gap between learners. Figure 3(a) clearly
represents the wide discussions on the keynote in the Twitter backchannel, but
also names of speakers (Erik Duval) or local places (molokai) can be identified
from the tag cloud. The shown keywords have to be regarded with respect to the
context where they emerged. For example, only because the two terms “Erik”
“Duval” appear, it does not mean that these terms are relevant at all. Only in
For the ED-MEDIA 2009 there is a video of this automatic browsing available at
6 Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt

(a) Key terms and phrases from #edmedia on 2009-


(b) Key terms and phrases from #edmedia on 2009-


Fig. 3. Visualizing the dynamics of communication of the ED-MEDIA Twitter com-


the context of the time, when the terms appeared most and the location indicate
the relevance.
The key terms for 2009-06-25 show the phrase bytestander effect as very
important. Nancy White posted a link on the topic and gained a lot of retweets,
what made this topic so important. The terms social loafing and social acts
belong to a keynote of Richard Schwier entitled “Pursuing the elusive metaphor
of community in virtual learning environments”.

4 Discussion
Our research in [17] shows that the scientific community started to incorporate
Twitter as important tool for communicating and exchanging thoughts, resources
and continuative links. If we take a closer look to the scientific value of the
Twitter use at the ED-MEDIA conference, than we have to separate between two
major parts – on the one hand there are statistical data which allows a detailed
interpretation of trends, trend-setters or important topics. On the other hand
also the question ”For which purpose Twitter was used during the conference? ”
occurs. It can be stated that Twitter was used in following different ways:

– exchange of different resources (hyperlinks, pictures, videos, ...),

– exchange of social activities (sightseeing, journey towards and from the con-
ference venue),
– documentation of conference activities (posters, slides, notes, ...),
Twitter as tool for strengthen a scientific community 7

– providing conference announcements,

– possibility to give feedback or ask question to conference committees,
– arrange short meetings,
– discuss with people who are only participating online,
– comments to talks, and
– discussion about different people, presentations and topics.

If we take a closer look at the last two applications, there is a prominent

example from this year ED-MEDIA. On thursday, 2009-06-25 M. David Mer-
rill gave his keynote entitled “What Makes e3 (effective, efficient and engaging)
Instruction? ”, which was intended as tie between instructional and construc-
tivist approaches for learning. The talk was tightly geared to instructional de-
sign what attracted heavy discussions in the Twitter channel. The discussants
were scathing the old-fashioned instructional design and criticized that the top-
ics were discussed already ten years ago. The discussion was visible to everyone
because the stream was projected during the talk. The next speaker Tom Reeves
picked up the discussion in his talk “Little Learning, Big Learning: In Defense
of Authentic Tasks” later on.

5 Conclusion and Outlook

In this publication the use of Twitter at one of the largest e-Learning confer-
ences, the ED-MEDIA 2009 was carried out. Based on statistical analyses of
tweets using the official conference hashtag (#edmedia) it was shown that the
number of tweets increased arbitrarily during the conference as well as the num-
ber of Twitter participants. Furthermore the top trend makers show who is the
heartbeat of this online community and the key terms pointed out, what the
community was talking about.
We are just beginning to understand the application of Twitter in educational
settings and scientific conferences. As shown above, participants used Twitter in
manifold ways from commenting, sharing, arranging and lots of other things. It
can be concluded that the main intention of the very first beginning, to answer
the question “What are you doing? ”, is simply overruled by the community and
their creative ways to deal with microblogging platforms.

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