Thick Tweets

Thick Tweets

Another follow-up to a tweet, posted in response to David Silver’s attempt to use a Geertzian theory on twitter: bizarre categorization of tweets. With a link, this is “thick”
2:45 PM Feb 25th

I appreciate someone trying to apply thick description to tweets, but I’m not certain David Silver hasn’t missed the mark a bit here.

First: isn’t it frustrating that every time we experiment with web applications, there’s someone somewhere trying to tell us how to do it right? Case in point, back from 2005: “I just spent fifteen minutes clicking through about 20 Xanga sites and I CAN’T FIND ANY BLOGGING GOING ON! Is it me?” (my response). We like these applications to fulfill a pedagogical role, often to improve the profile of the use of the application to other academics and departmental chairs. Current case in point: some researchers/educators using Second Life don’t want to be associated with the “debauchery” of the Second Life Community Conference, and want to break out on their own in order to set the “right” tone.

So now we get to the “right” and “wrong” kinds of tweets. This is a challenging thing, since a tweet is only 140 characters long. Silver encourages students to “pack multiple layers of information within 140 characters or less,” and those layers are defined by links, primarily. Also by shout outs. And mentioning names.

I don’t think thick description is a good way to evaluate a tweet. A tweet’s value isn’t in how much information it’s conveying, it’s in the basic value of the information itself. Personally I quite like funny tweets, regardless of whether they’ve got links in them or not. The context of tweets doesn’t come from the tweet itself, it comes from the environment around the tweet, the news of the day, the location of the user, the user’s other tweets, the user’s blog, flickr stream, employment history, and the live events the user it attending. Tweets are ultimately snippets that don’t necessarily make sense in isolation. I’d suggest that to evaluate them individually is to miss a great deal of their “thickness”.

Some of my favourite tweets:

“Great design comes from an artistic or cultural impulse, not a focus group.”
11:06 PM Jan 24th from web cloudforest

Is there anything more newbish than using Internet Explorer? Question still valid after 12+ years of asking it.
2:31 PM Feb 27th from TweetDeck, BeCircle

Overheard this week: “Lent? That’s the musical with all the AIDS, right?”
3:58 PM Feb 27th from TweetDeck, RJToronto

Still ignoring Facebook 25 things requests, but copying my wife’s idea: I’ll gladly go for coffee/beer and answer them in person instead.
4:03 AM Feb 27th from web, oninformation

These tweets don’t really fulfill Silver’s “thick” requirements, but I find them interesting and valuable. They give me things to think about. How do you quantify the pithiness of 140 characters?

0 thoughts on “Thick Tweets

  1. @davidmsilver I don’t see any hostility. She’s identifying a long standing hegemonic problem by educators, IMHO.

  2. Hello Rochelle,

    i shared your blog post today with my students and they encouraged me to post a comment. i must admit, though, it feels as if you did not read my original blog post.

    can you tell me precisely where in my blog post i mention Geertz?

    also, can you tell me precisely where i say there is a right and wrong way to tweet?

  3. Hi there David!

    I don’t believe you did mention Geertz, but since thick description appears to be the basis of your “thick tweets” rubric, I presumed you were invoking him. Were you not? If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of thick description, you can read more about it here.

    The fact that you’re telling students how they’re expected to use twitter in a class based on producing digital media kind of implies that there’s a right and a wrong way, a “smart” way and a “less-smart” way. As you say in your post, your “bias is evident”.

    I’m glad my post is encouraging discussion in your class!

  4. ZOMG! David. Are you serious. Do you not know what ‘thick description’ means and where it comes from? You invoke Geertz by using the term ‘thick blaa blaa’ versus ‘thin blaa blaa’. This is like saying ‘ten commandments’ and not thinking your including Moses in the conversation. You define thin and thick tweets and then put some sort of value to them based on how they’re constructed, what your decision as to what is and isn’t thick or thin based on. You have your definitions, but they seem more a function of whim.

  5. Oh hai Jason, yeah, I thought the connection to Geertz was kind of staggeringly obvious. Always good to be aware of where our influences come from, eh? Self-awareness is the first step toward good citation!

  6. I’m reluctant to wade in, since both of you are so charming in person and this has the potential for unnecessary flaming. But…

    First, I will say that Geertz came to my mind, too, when David invoked the thick/thin dichotomy, but there is no reason it has to. A connection between thick description and Twitter would have to be carefully wrought, and I don’t think it could be done very effectively. So, if David says he didn’t intend his use of thick to be Geertzian, I see no reason not to believe this. And Jason, that’s not the same as saying he’s never heard of Geertz. Geertz does not own thick & thin as descriptors. I’m pretty sure Sun was not thinking of Geertz when they started pushing “thin clients.” I might have picked “shallow” and “deep,” since the latter shares double vowels with tweet, and I think “deep tweet” has a nice ring to it, but given that “description” was not part of the rubric, and that I do not see clear parallels between David’s rubric and the idea of thick description, it seems odd to call him to task for something he did not claim.

    And I’ll have to side with David on assigning particular forms of interaction, as well. I don’t think there is any “natural” or “right” way to tweet, and given this, asking students to tweet in a particular way is not onerous. I can see–and have experienced–issues with messing with students’ social networks. Making students use Facebook in a certain way seems to me to be overstepping. Requiring (as one of my colleagues does) students to turn over their cell phones for a week definitely does. But asking people to tweet (or blog, as I do) in a particular way does not seem to me to be a problem. I assume that David wouldn’t have a problem with students setting up a separate Twitter account just for his class.

    Sure, there may be students in David’s class who will say “I’ll tweet what I want!” and that’s fine. No one is stopping them. But if I tell my students that course-related tweets should include an assertion, evidence, and a link–I see nothing wrong with this. In fact, I might very well do just that this summer. A lot of writing teachers have used Twitter as an effective way of getting students to think critically about their writing on a smaller scale. I don’t tell people that there is a “right way” to blog, but I do tell them to blog in particularly ways for the purpose of the class.

    Rochelle: if you do see something wrong with it, that’s OK. But I think you need to articulate things a bit better. Right now it feels like you are boxing shadows. And David: you do weird stuff, so you need to have a thicker skin (in a purely non-Geertzian sense). If Rochelle doesn’t like what you are doing, it’s worth figuring out why, even if you disagree. Both of you, rest assured that there are plenty of people out there willing to criticize the use of Twitter in education *at all* and they are probably better targets of your scorn.

    Now I will duck quickly, to avoid anything thrown, and see whether we can arrange a cage match, if necessary, in Milwaukee.

  7. Wise words, Alex.

    I haven’t really given much thought to telling students how to tweet per se, though since the class is on the production of digital media, I think I might hesitate to do so and is certainly part of my reaction to David’s original post.

    Tweets in reaction to something, that I *have* thought about: setting up a local instance of twitter specifically to get students to back channel in big classes, yes. And in that case, only about the class, thx. So yeah, I can see some rules/guidelines for the use of any web app for a class, definitely.

    My real crit came from the suggestion that the best/good/worthy tweets have links in them. Alex, I think some of the best tweeting I’ve done was when we were arguing in that web archive session in Copenhagen. That really trebled the experience for me. But the context for it was all in the room with us!

    It all comes in the application of the application, it seems to me; once we figure out the “what am I using this for today”, then it’s easier to see what’s valuable and what’s not.

    In the case of “thick or thin”: I think the “thickness” of twitter comes in parsing it; if students were to comment on the ebb and flow of their own commentary, that would give you a true Geertz thick description of the twitter experience. The call and response, links to the things to which the twitterer is responding, etc. Perhaps I’m beginning to suggest that tweets are best understood as a package with other packages of context, not as individual statements.

    Thanks for the moderation, though. Your wisdom is appreciated.

  8. Hey Alex. When you have 10 million google hits for thick/thin description, I would suggest that you need to explicitly separate yourself from the term if you’re going to use thick/thin as was done. It’s not like Geertz was in an unrelated field or anything. IMHO, if you’re going to echo the incantation, you’re invoking the muse.

    As for prescriptive tweeting… I demand my students blog a certain way, and have for since when they were called critical reflective narrative posts in threaded discussions. No problem there, but that was modeling a practice for a specific purpose, not implying that my way was better… just more suitable for the course. I explicitly tell students that after the course is done, they should find their own way to construct meaningful posts that works for them.

    Luckily for us all, the last few gestational decades of the internet have shown us that no amount of prescriptive direction on anyone’s part has not been under-cut by users’ repurposing of social technologies to their own ends. I seem to remember the telephone being intended for an entirely different purpose than it is presently used as well.

    Cage match is fine… as long as you come dressed as a ref., and we three get to regroup, and gang up on you with a feather duster. 🙂

  9. thanks, Alex, for taking the time to weigh in and for doing it so wisely.

    i’ll admit that i feel thin-skinned on this one mostly because i feel as though Rochelle hasn’t actually read my post.

    Rochelle, in a comment you say, “The fact that you’re telling students how they’re expected to use twitter in a class based on producing digital media kind of implies that there’s a right and a wrong way, a “smart” way and a “less-smart” way.” but in my post i say: “i encourage my students to use and experiment with twitter in any and all ways they see fit and this can of course include thin tweets.”

    and in a later comment you say, “My real crit came from the suggestion that the best/good/worthy tweets have links in them.” Rochelle, i never said that. i never wrote that. please re-read my definition: “thick tweets convey two or more, often with help from a hyperlink.” moreover, one of the examples of a thick tweet, teresacgarcia’s, has no links in them. i do not believe, nor have i written, that good/worthy tweets have links in them.

    like all bloggers, i appreciate people interacting with my work, especially when it challenges me to think in new directions. it’s difficult, however, when i feel as though you aren’t actually reading what i have written. that said, i appreciate this public forum to further discuss and share ideas.

  10. Hi again, David!

    I certainly did read the post; a couple of times, in fact. Alex is right that I was grappling with some half-formed thoughts about your twitter thin/thick division, trying to determine exactly why it didn’t feel right to me. This exchange has helped me further express myself on that subject, as I stated above, that I think my gut reaction comes from feeling that twitter accounts are the significant item, not the individual tweets; even the account itself doesn’t hold all the clues to the context for its content, but the metadata around them certainly helps.

    I’m not trying to attack you in any way; I merely respond and try to work through my reactions to things in this space. I stand by the gist of what I said, and what I’ve said since; I’ll be very curious to read about your class and how it works out. I wish all the best for you and your endeavours and hope to have opportunities to continue to learn from you, your experiments and your experiences.

    Please don’t take me too seriously; all debates are transitory, all opinions are temporary, and I’m always looking for the next epiphany.

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