Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More love for Twitter

You were probably getting tired of all my writing about Google. And it appears that this semester I've switched to being a big fan of Twitter.

In any case, I just found an interesting new tool allows you to integrate your Google Calendar with your Twitter account. I'm not sure that I'm using Twitter more than I'm using Gmail at this point, but just in case I can now use Twittercal to blast appointments more effectively.

Also, Alice of Beck Center fame sent me a link to a blog post on 17 different ways to visualize the Twitter Universe. The author breaks the different tools he has found into four categories: network diagrams, maps, analytics, and abstract. It's really interesting playing with these different tools. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Twitter Friends Network Browser: It's kind of like playing six degrees of separation, but with your Twitter family.
  • twittervision: I mentioned this in my first post about Twitter. But that doesn't mean that it isn't fun to play with still.
  • TweetStats: Get visualizations of how you've been using Twitter.
  • TweetVolume: search for specific words or phrases and compare them to each other. (Brian is a more popular word than Wayne, Jay, or Alan.)
  • Twitter Blocks: a Twitter-made application for visualizing your network and posts.
  • 24 o'clocks: A very pretty way to browse your and your friends tweets on a calendar-like interface.
And there will likely continue to be new applications designed using Twitter's API in the near future.

I've been trying to explain to people for the last two months why I find Twitter intriguing. Maybe it's just because it's an easy web 2.0 platform or that it is very portable. It definitely has something to do with the pedagogical possibilities I'm imagining for it. But it also has something to do with the imagined communities that it is already allowing me to build. And that's enough for now.

Distributed fiction

So I've seen things like this before, but I've never had the chance to play with one as it is developing. A new distributed fiction by Toby Litt has gone live today. The basic plot is that a teenage daughter who has been getting into trouble in California is taken out of her environment by her parents who suddenly move to England. The house they're in may or may not be haunted. We'll get to find out as things go along.

You can follow the fiction by reading the blog of the daughter ("Slice") or of her parents. (Of course, the author have chosen age-appropriate domains for hosting the blog. You can also receive updates on Twitter (Slice and parents) and on Flickr. Finally, you can email Slice and interact with the characters that way.

This appears to be something that is coming out of a six-week project run by Penguin in the UK. You can read about this week's story here. And you can read the previous week's story here, which runs in Google Maps. Hey, I had nothing better to do for the next few days...

Credit to academicdave for pointing this out. Via Twitter. Of course.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another academhack post on Twitter

academhack/Dave Parry has a new post up on his use of Twitter. In it, he addresses the two reasons he teaches Twitter. In the first place, he sees it as an emergent medium that is shaping how we communicate and, thus, shaping our culture. In the second place, as he has written previously, Twitter allows him to expand the learning community of his students beyond the walls of the classroom and throughout the day. Given the more nomadic lives of our students, knowing what one another is doing and thinking about is a way to bring more interactivity into the classroom to foster community/communal learning. He is persuasive and although I'm a member of the choir to whom he may be preaching, I believe he's correct on both points.

My own experience this past weekend using Twitter demonstrates the power of the smart mob/community that Twitter has put me in contact with. On Saturday afternoon, I learned from my wife that a tree had fallen on our house on Saturday afternoon in relation to the aftermath of Atlanta's tornado. I was waiting for Amber and the boys to come and pick me up at school, where I had spent most of the day when she called. Not having much to do, I decided to send out a tweet on the subject. Within a few hours, I had multiple people emailing to check on how our family was doing. Part of the distribution of the news was owed to my having integrated Twitter with Facebook. Some friends saw the tweet; others saw the updated Facebook status. But they more or less knew what was happening to me in real time. And they started offering to help in any way they could.

In returning to academhack's post, the one thing that I would really like to highlight is a point that he buries to a degree. He suggests that the networks between students and professors who are using Twitter is similar to the networks one has to learn to form in order to be successful in graduate school. In thinking back on my graduate school experience to this point, I think that Twitter could have made bridging the gap between myself and our department's faculty even easier. I understand why not everyone wants to spend their time Twittering or sharing their private lives with whatever grad students may want to listen in. But the chance to get to know faculty members outside of the seminar room and their office hours are equally rare and valuable. Twitter is a tool that allows us to readjust and strengthen these relationships.

And then to extend them laterally as we discover others who share our interests. When we don't all have travel/conference budgets to get out and meet all the people we would like to get to know, Twitter is a means for knowing what those whose work we are following in print are doing with their time. And it becomes the means to get to know them as well as or better than the people with whom you share an office wall.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Victorian Age Timeline being updated

Good news to you timeline fanatics out there. The Victorian Age Timeline that JBJ and I built for his Victorian survey class is beginning to be populated with data. Check it out. Send us accolades and money.

(In other news, my documentation on building your own timeline is nearing completion.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Who knew? Another timeline.

So, less than a week ago I wrote about Timefo as a timeline building alternative. A week before that, I covered xtimeline. And it was in that post that I wrote, in supreme confidence,
Timelines are not, I'm afraid, going to go viral in the near future.

While I still don't think that building timelines will be all the rage, it appears that building tools to help others build timelines is.

Today, I came across TimelineIt. Like Timefo, it's based on SIMILE's Timeline script and uses a simple forms interface to allow you to add events to a timeline that you can scroll through.

Advantages of TimelineIt:
  • Dead-simple interface.
  • Very smart inclusion of tabs that let you shift the scale of the timeline from days to weeks, months, or years. Zoom buttons let you get closer to events without changing the scale so radically. Look at the upper left and right, respectively, of this image, which is too large to host effectively on Blogger.
  • You can use all the basic HTML coding that I use in my spreadsheets. This means you can use it to create italics or links within item descriptions or to host YouTube videos.
  • A much better name than "Timefo."
Disadvantages:
  • Lack of tags means that you can't group events into types or relate them in any way.
  • No way to build timelines as a group.
  • No way to "publish" timelines. I'm unable to show my timeline to others unless I pull it up for them while logged in to my account.
  • Dead-simple interface means no explanation of how to use the tool or how to take advantage of HTMLing things.
  • No photos or video (without already knowing how the Timeline script works).
  • No mapping (which Timefo does very well).
Overall, I can't recommend TimelineIt at the moment over Timefo or xtimeline. It's got a very nice innovation as far as the tabs and zoom buttons go. But that's about it. Let's hope they take that innovation and move forward in other ways.