Friendsourcing on Twitter (for academic purposes)

With great interest I have read this article published on by Christine Kelly. Writing about the potential of Twitter in the context of history she describes three spheres of social engagement in the past: the two spheres of professional historians and institutions, where Twitter is used in collaboration and promotion; and the last sphere of ordinary people who may be interested in history, but history is not their main activity. Christine Kelly builds her article just mainly on analyzing how that third area of common Twitter users can be used in promotion of historical knowledge. We can read that Twitter have made both historians and institutions more human and have reduced the sense of detachment people feel toward history and historical institutes.

Many links and resources were mentioned on Twitter during last THATCamp in June

I would like to try to write something about the first two spheres mentioned by the author and add my own remarks from my local (Polish) point of view. Twitter becomes for me the first internet source of information about new digital humanities trends and problems, articles, events and discussions from abroad. Why it is better to use this tool than rely on Google News or RSS feeds? The answer is: friendsourcing.

Wisdom of the crowds? Thank you…

The Web itself has no tools to discern between the valuable and worthless articles, videos, comments, photos published everyday online. Of course Google has its own ways to show the most appropriate pages during the search (Page Rank), but the amount of information is still too large. On the other way we have tools like Digg or – in Poland – – where the community of users defines the quality of web resources. Andrew Keen, the author of The Cult of the Amateur tries to show that the main danger for our culture is democrating content creation on the Internet. In his comments he attacks Wikipedia, but this criticism can be expanded wider to almost all Web 2.0 initiatives. I am not as sceptical as Keen in the case of Web 2.0, but I like his critical point of view. If you analyze the historical links promoted on you can see that they have usually very political or sensational character. The most popular not too often is the best (What proves to be most popular does not necessarily mean it is the best thing to get) . There is no chance to find there any scholarly material. And – what’s more – a general community or a Google (Page Rank) can give too much information during research. There is no time to analyze it, no chance to check every article or comment. If you use Google Reader, even if there are plenty of defined sources, still the amount of information is terrifying.

When I want to search for high quality news and resources I would prefer not to ask just anybody and use people who have some knowledge of the subject. I need better filters to get the best quality of internet findings. And Twitter has became a great infrastructure to build such filters.

Make filters on Twitter

Jeff Howe has promoted the term crowdsourcing, which emphasize the potential of internet communities in developing knowledge. Friendsourcing in some way can be seen as opposition to crowdsourcing. Friendsourcing is based on the potential of relatively small networks of friends, which have similar interests and common professions. There is no wisdom of the crowd, but wisdom of a carefully collected network of people, which becomes a high quality source of information. Friendsourcing realized on Twitter in scholarly context gives:

  • effective filters based on people who are professionals and on their own filtered information which is later made accessible to me;
  • first-hand information from institutes (museums, libraries, universities);
  • an opportunity to have a quick answer to a question and to get in contact much faster (better than email which is much more formal way of communication);
  • an opportunity to search through tweets for defined #topics (another filter);
  • an opportunity to become an active member of the international community and to build the wisdom of colleague;
  • an easy and quick way to find new contacts in the field of scholar interests;
  • an opportunity to (virtually) take part in the conferences and events (like in the case of THATCamp);
  • a chance to transmit local scholarly experiences around the world
  • API to build another filters and tools supporting research.

Twitter becomes one of the main internet tools I use to get to know about digital humanities issues discussed around the web. Neither RSS feeds nor Google News bring me such precise information on this topic. This is a great chance for collaboration and exchanging ideas.

You can of course follow me on Twitter. Read also:

Twitter for Research: Why and How to Do It, Including Case Studies

On Twitter, Academic Debates Fall Short

Historians on Twitter (list by @katrinagulliver) and a proposal of tiny tool to observe them.

How People Are Using Twitter During Conferences [PDF]

Twitter for Academia