Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twittering Librarians Confront Hashtagging

Cataloging used to be the preserve of a special breed of librarians, but in the Web 2.0 era, cataloging, in the form of "tagging" has been opened up to the masses. With the advent of Twitter, this sort of tagging, which used to be tucked away in metadata fields, has injected itself into people's everyday stream of text. So it's interesting to see what happens when librarians, all of whom should have at least a bit of training in the application of subject headings, are presented with the task of hashtagging their Tweets. That's exactly what happened thes past weekend when 28,000 people attended the Annual Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago. Over 1,500 Tweets were hashtagged to indicate they were related to the meeting.

In a previous blog post, I looked at how about 30 conferences were hashtagged. I observed that the choice of hashtag was usually not an issue, and tweets were rarely divergently tagged after the first day of a conference. Avoidance of irrelevent subjects was the most important consideration in choice of hashtag. At ALA, as you might expect, there were more than the usual number of tweets asking which hashtag to use; this occurred even near the end of the meeting. Although the official hashtag was "#ala2009", there was a greater than 5% rate of divergent hashtag use, "#ala09" and "#ala". The latter tag was a poor choice due to conflict with other subjects. In my limited sample set, most conferences saw less divergent hashtag use.

As ALA is a large meeting, several sessions exhibited their own hashtags. The most tweeted "session" that I observed was "#unala2009". I wonder if there is a practical limit to the tweet-rate. At some tweet-rate, perhaps 1000 per day, people will want to start tweeting to a more specific hashtag. The "Top Tech Trends" twitterers battled to a 30-30 tie for the hashtags "#toptech" and "#ttt09".

Also noteworthy was the appearance and disappearance of the "ALAsecrets" account and associated twitterspam. This account published its password to allow for anonymous twittering. Interesting idea, poorly implemented. If only the librarians responsible would have created a librarian specific password like the one that scientists always use for numerical locks on their labs, 3 1 4 etc. Use the comments to propose a "shibboleth" for librarians. (Dewey's first name?)

Addendum: after posting, I realized that I should count the number of ALA tweets that used multiple ALA hashtags. 59% of tweets using the "wrong" hashtag also included the official hashtag. With that correction, the divergence rate went down to 2%, roughly the same as that found overall in my previous study.


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