Visualizing Twitter Conversations – Twitwheel

I came back to work this week after a glorious 5 week holiday (the longest, and BEST, holiday I’ve ever taken) and have mostly dug out now from the backlog of emails, RSS feeds etc that piled up during that time.

One gem I discovered in the pile, via OLDaily, was a link to a new platform called Talkwheel. What I saw when I went to that website, a discussion platform similar to many microblogging systems that created a visualization of the conversations (and their depths/intensities) excited me. Not only have I had a long interest in visualization, it spoke to work I did very early on in my career of using the medicine wheel and talking stick as a method of facilitating online conversations.

However, when I tweeted about it I did so with a caveat:

While I loved the visualization, the idea of having to switch to a new platform did not appeal to me at all.

But, owing both to the power of open conversations and the canniness of the folks at Talkwheel, I quickly got a reply that I was underestimating the power of their platform:

Sure enough, after some back and forth, the pointed me to an example which is exactly the kind of thing that excites me, Twitwheel. This is an instance of the Talkwheel visualizer that has been customized to work with Twitter, and uses either a username or a search term as the seed for exploring conversations. As an example, here is a conversation that happened yesterday where I introduced David Gratton the project to Pat Lockely, who has been working on the Open Attribute plugin.

Perhaps there are other tools that already do this, but I haven’t come across them. Most of the twitter visualization stuff I’ve seen focuses on friend relationships or simply _that_ a tag was used, not that it was used in a conversation _between_ people. And what is exciting is that the TalkWheel folks, clearly Web 2.0-savvy, understand its value to existing conversations and platforms (but also have built their own, which in many cases in formal ed might be just what the doctor ordered given all the privacy concerns, etc.)

From a formal learning perspective, one of the pieces that is missing here is the ability to visualize the full set of pre-defined participants; like much of Web 2.0, this currently seems to be based on visualizing “presence,” not “absence.” By this I mean – I can see what conversations are happening, but what I can’t see is what conversations *aren’t* happening, or at least I can’t see this unless someone contributes at least 1 thing, and thus starts to show up on wheels. When part of your task, whether in a classroom or in a community, is to help foster connections, being able to see these absences is HUGELY useful. This is not a big shortcoming and something I could see being fairly easy to address; in the context of twitter it could be done by using a “list” as the seed for a wheel rather than an individual, that way the gaos between all members of a list become apparent very quickly.

Still, exciting to see tools like this emerge. Will look forward to playing with it more and seeing if there are ways to have it visualize Buddypress networks, Moodle and phpBB-style discussion forums. – SWL

Educational Word of the Day (eduWOTD) on Twitter

Back in December I found myself regularly immersed in wikipedia articles late at night (ok, I am a nerd) which would prompt me to post the occassional word into my twitter stream in an effort to share some of the learning I was doing. I find many words can be powerful connectors, containing complex ideas, the exploration of which, especially in a hyperlinked environment like Wikipedia, can lead to an unfolding of a much deeper and broader topic.

But posting these into my personal twitter stream felt a little like a disruption, like they were even greater non sequitars than my regular ravings(!) So I decided to set up a new account, eduWOTD, through which to post a vaguely education-related word, definition, and link, each work day. I say “vaguely” because to me, it is difficult to think about education, learning or teaching without also thinking about psychology, philosophy of mind, theories of knowledge and all sorts of things that impact how we approach education. So while the words might seem a little random once in a while, I do think if you go down the rabbit hole you’ll discover some interesting connections.

When I first launched this, other than a few DMs to friends asking them tweet it if they found it useful, I didn’t really announce it. I simply created the account and followed about 180 people. I wanted to see if it would grow organically, through people finding it valueable and retweeting it, and keeping my own name out of it as much as I could. Today it broke 100 followers, which feels like a minor milestone, and I am breaking the semi-silence to announce it here. At the end of the day, this is as much a personal exercise in capturing words that have sparked my own learning, but doing it in a way that others can benefit if they chose. So I will keep doing it regardless of the number of followers, simply as part of my own practice. But if it is of interest, feel free to follow along, and if you are also passionate about learning and words, feel free to suggest new ones for inclusion too. – SWL

Another 1/4-baked idea – OER “virtual reference librarian”

This is another totally off-the-cuff not-well-thought-through idea (one wonders if I have any other kind!) but I do trust that smart folks out there will promptly tell me if it’s a terrible one, which is why I’m tossing it out here before I actually spend any more effort on it.

I want to put to the side ideological and theoretical debates around OER for a second because I am driven by a specific problem – it’s *my job* to help instructors and institutions in BC share online learning resources and in general to promote awareness of OER and their reuse. So I am always thinking of ways I might help people find useful resources.

Now I often make the mistake of thinking everyone is exactly like me, and so much of my effort has been in helping people help themselves. This often takes the form of technological interventions like teaching instructors how to grow their own PLN’s, or my work around client-side augmentation.

But a couple of things have given me pause to reconsider whether there are other ‘hands-on,’ ‘high touch’ approaches I should also be considering. One is the (disappointingly stillborn) Findanoerafrica twitter account that Dave Cormier setup at the Open Ed ’09 conference. The other was the experience last night of watching a friend wonder out loud on twitter about good resources on gardening for K-4 students, and within minutes seeing a fantastic reply from another friend and OER curator-type which seemed to exactly fit the bill.

So there could be no better example of informal learning networks “just sharing” than this, and I know enough about this network stuff to know that institutionalizing it can be the kiss of death, but both of these did make me wonder if there maybe isn’t some role for an “Ask the OER Virtual Librarian” service to help faculty new to the idea of finding and reusing open resources get off to a start. Maybe a twitter account or email address that would be easy to monitor as part of one’s normal workflow but that would allow a higher touch response. I suppose this is often the role for instructional designers, but in my experience not every faculty developing a course gets the chance to work with instructional designers (and certainly students don’t, and I wonder the extent to which *real* librarians avail themselves of OER versus more traditional sources.) So…

Is this a dumb idea? Would this be tantamount to admitting that OERs (as any sort of distinct thing) are a failure? (Certainly it would seem like acknowledging the current way of developing and sharing them might be.) Is “discoverability” even actually the problem with resources getting reused, or is it possible that the whole model is so flawed, so disconnected from how educators construct course materials, that it wouldn’t make any difference (and to be fair, it is important to distinguish OER aimed at educator reuse and OER aimed at student self-study). Please let me know. I like this idea simply because when I see this happen in my networks it brings me joy to observe, but it may be trying to squash the round peg of institutional roles into the square hole of personal networks. Wouldn’t be the first time… – SWL

ReadTwit and GReader – two great tastes that taste great together

04-30 peanut butter cup by FrontStudio

A while back I found readtwit (can’t recall from who, but thanks!), a service that creates an RSS feed of all the links that are posted by people in your twitter follow feed, expanding each link into the page it was actually linking to.

Now if you are like me, and follow people in your field who are passionate about what they do and share a lot of what they do, what they learn and what they find in twitter, this is a godsend. What it results in looks a lot like the below screenshot once you subscribe to it in Google Reader (or really whatever RSS Reader you like, but I am going to focus on GReader for a reason):

Readtwit in GReader

Well, so what you say- sure you have the links from twitter in GReader, but all you’ve done is shifted reading environments. Aha, just so! But shifted into one that offers better affordances for this specific use of twitter (learning and collective intelligence through link sharing.)

First off, if this is the primary way in which you approach twitter (as a social network primarily for finding new resources, it allows you to pay attention to just that. I’d suggest that this would be to not benefit from the full interaction of twitter, but for some folks that’s just fine. Indeed, in conjunction with the new ‘Lists’ functionality in twitter, this becomes a powerful way for a newcomer to subscribe to a curated list of ‘experts’ and see what they are sharing with each other (it helps too that readtwit sorts out duplicates, again reducing the noise).

But say you like spending time in twitter. What benefit then? Well, one aspect of shifting these particular tweets into a reader is that you can consume then at your own pace, and not loose them as twitter flows endlessly by. At least that is what I first thought when I subscribed. But sure enough, just as tweets flow by too quickly to “keep up” with everything, shifting to GReader doesn’t help that much. Instead I just get a feed full of too many links to follow up on.

It wasn’t until during the midst of presentation to Alec Couros’ grad school class (Elluminate recording here) on “Mashing and Remixing Open Education” that I actually realized what the REAL benefit of subscribing to the readtwit feed in GReader was. It wasn’t so that I could follow each of the links in the feed – I still will click through in twitter when I see something that is interesting, and let it flow past when I’m not there. No, the REAL benefit is that the pages in this feed GET ADDED TO MY PERSONAL FEED-FOCUSED SEARCH ENGINE.


I’m not sure how many people actually realize that GReader allows you to search across all the feeds your subscribe to (or even a specific feed). Why is this important? Because – if it’s in my feed reader it has already reached a certain level of ‘trust’ as a source for me. I’m not saying I “believe” everything in my feed reader, but the vast majority come from people who are curating their own identities/output, whose context overlaps mine to some extent (otherwise I wouldn’t be subscribing to them). Being able to see who else in my network wrote or linked to something I find is of great use for me, increases my ability to assess information 10 fold.

Anyways, try it out for yourself. It doesn’t cost anything, the worse that happens is you have a GReader feed that fills up with unread items. The best that happens is that you added another source to your growing socially filter search engine. – SWL

My Twitter Cycle

With apologies to CogDog,

It’s been fun, but for me, my experiment with Twitter is done. I tried briefly to encourage a mass migration of Twitter pals to Jaiku, but didn’t have the social mojo to accomplish it, and in truth, it didn’t appeal to me that much – too “busy,” not as simple and clean as Twitter, and as everyone pointed out, relatively empty of users.

It’s too bad, the experiment was fun, I really enjoyed the daily interaction with old friends like CogDog, D’Arcy and Brian and making new ones with Bryan, Jim, Gardner and others, but at the end of the day I have no affection for flaky apps that leave me feeling like I’m the one with the problem instead of just plain breaking (which at least you know was the apps fault). So goodbye Twitter, it’s been nice to know yah. And hopefully this won’t render me persona non grata with the Twitterati. – SWL