With my academic blogging hat firmly in place, I joined Twitter’s ranks several weeks ago. I’d been using Twitter for several months for my own personal use, as a way to connect with a small and close circle of friends, but finally decided to open a history-ing account in order to expand into the most explosively popular social networking platform of the past year. My initial reactions?

It’s fascinating. At first, there was the frenzied rush to follow and receive updates from others in order to carve out a toe-hold in the digital humanities/digital history Twitter community. That was followed by the mildly addictive positive-feedback loop of other users subscribing to your updates as well, with each new follower adding to my chimerical sense of legitimacy. Once a base level of following/followers was established, I settled in and absorbed the distinctive pulse of the Twitter community I had joined - its customs, conventions, and patterns. I felt a lot like I was learning a new sport, (mostly) watching from the sidelines for awhile until I felt more and more comfortable with tweeting.

The patterns became clear. Tweets could be broken into several different categories (at least among those users that I follow): serious thoughts/observations/questions, links to other tweets or external items, dialogue with other users, or personal asides. The last bit (personal updates) took some getting used to, and can be somewhat off-putting to many people. Do my followers really want to know that I had a crazy metro ride home from work today, or if it’s unusually warm outside? For those users interested in the “value-add” side of Twitter as an academic tool, probably not. But it is remarkable how personal tweets can lend an engagingly human dimension to the entire process. Especially for someone in my position, who has never met the majority of the people I follow, personal tweets (in moderation) can really add to a sense of community. And given its status a social networking platform, this is obviously an important aspect of Twitter.

One of the greatest advantages for academia that I can see from Twitter is that it plugs you into a rapid-fire, real-time platform for ideas and thoughts. While this can quickly turn into a deluge of information overload, it also keeps you up to date on contemporary events, issues, and trends in a distinctively social manner. If four people you follow start talking about the same issue (for instance, Facebook’s recent Terms of Service controversy), it prompts you to learn about the issue and participate in the conversation. Instead of simply reading an article, blog post, or op-ed, you can benefit from and participate in a series of snapshot reactions. In this manner, Twitter is another development that continues to chip away at the persistent notion of an individual scholar toiling in isolation. For instance, a historian conducting research might tweet a link to a particular photograph they uncovered in the archives. Perhaps one of their followers notices something of interest in the photograph and alerts the original researcher, or ends up using that photograph for their own project. Even if you don’t have enough of a follower base to engage in this kind of crowd-sourcing, it is still an ideal platform to casually bounce around ideas, thoughts, or questions with a community of like-minded individuals.