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Andrew Alden

How Twitter Helps Scientists

By December 10, 2012

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After spending last week at the giant AGU Fall Meeting, I needed no convincing of how useful it is to be plugged in. The AGU provided a smartphone app to help the 22,000-plus attendees plan their schedules, and on Twitter many of us shared our impressions and advice using the hashtag "#AGU12"—a consistent text string that labels Twitter posts about the meeting. I used Tweetdeck to set up a separate feed based on that hashtag. The very brief text length allowed by Twitter keeps the stream of communication manageable. Geoscientist Liz Neeley was there doing the same, and she reports in a post on Compassblogs on her three favorite ways of using a tweet-stream at a science conference.

I remember arriving at AGU back in the day and being handed an 800-page program, with all the abstracts printed in 6-point type. We also got a smaller book listing just the titles of the talks and posters. From that wood-pulp data dump, we had to figure out what we wanted to see and then write that down on a piece of paper. Otherwise we needed a briefcase or backpack to lug it around. And then it sat on our bookshelves, almost never to be reopened. In 2000 they started putting all that on a CD—at least, that's the earliest one I have handy. Today it's all online, a brave new world that's already old hat to today's young scientists. Twitter, at least so far, is not yet old hat.

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