February 23, 2011

#Enough! My Twitter Style Guide

Image credit: Emilie OgezMy Power of the Hashtag training was such a success that I'm moving ahead with our first Twitter style guide. It's also a way for me to do something constructive with my observations instead of complaining. Here it is, an "organic" document at best, but I'm calling this Version 1, Release 1, with a decently sized smirk on my face.

Most tweets are meant to be read left to right, and as such, they still need to be processed as language (c.f. a tweet that is purely meant to get itself into a bunch of search results). Tweet your best using these simple guidelines:
  • Whatever you do, be consistent. I'm only half-joking when I say that in all things Twitter, consistent misuse of a character could easily start a new trend.
  • The @ symbol is an operator that activates the mention feature. Avoid using @ when you mean “at” unless you really need to save one character.
  • Use no more than one hashtag per clause. And you can generally fit no more than one clause in a tweet without a lot of abbreviations.
  • Use no more than one @mention per clause. See above.
  • Multiple hashtags and @mentions are acceptable when strung together at the end of a tweet, where they are not in context.
  • When mentioning several people in a row, as with the #FollowFriday hashtag, there is no need for commas. The names are already set off as links.
  • Avoid state name abbreviations in favor of mixed-case state names, such as #RhodeIsland instead of #RI. (I know that's a lot of characters; more on this issue later. It has generated so much discussion over here that I could do a whole post about it.)
  • If using a cryptic hashtag, as for a conference, put it at the end of the tweet--not the beginning--unless it is part of a clause. For example, use, “Jordan got OLD! I’m rockin’ out at #nkotb11.” or “Jordan got OLD! #nkotb11.” but not “#nkotb11 Jordan got OLD!”
  • Introduce a link with a colon unless your (English, or whatever language you're tweeting in) syntax indicates that a link follows. For example, "You can download my Twitter Style Guide at www.embeddedlibrarian.blogspot.com." However...
  • Text will not become a link on Twitter unless it is preceded by http://
  • Avoid abbreviations that are used in your field but may not be known by a wider audience (E.g. "pwd" is used in some circles for "people with disabilities" but makes a tweet hard to read and understand by others.)
  • Helpful abbreviations for you and your readers:
    w/: with
    ppl : people
    btw : between
    $ : money or funding
    & : and
(Believe it or not, many people forget they can shorten tweets by employing the handy ampersand. For that matter, most people do not derive nearly enough pleasure from writing or saying "Ampersand.")

Now I realize that these tips are less about "style" than they are boring proscriptions that will make an organization's Twitter feeds as unified and consistent as its print publications. But fret not! Version 2 will feature actual style tips, such as how to get your followers to catch on to new, obscure conventions, the diplomatic way to announce a feed's name change, and how to create and maintain identity and voice in your tweets without sounding unprofessional.

There is still a lot to learn, and the only way to do that on Twitter is to pay close attention and keep tweeting. As for referring to the medium itself, I think that the jury is still out with regard to "tweet" or "Tweet" as a noun, and as a verb, and for "ReTweet" versus "Retweet." What say you?

February 16, 2011

My Library Roots

I'm still following Gretchen Rubin as part of my embedded librarianship project. I find her more and more useful every day. (In March I plan to do a follow-up post about the "Work" section in her book, which is the March chapter.) She recently encouraged her blog readers to think about what we did for fun when we were 10 years old. As for me, I went to the library.

This post is part of the Library Roots/Routes project, celebrating the myriad paths we've all taken. They are seeking blog posts from librarians like you and me about how we got here and where we're going. It's been a nice opportunity for me to reflect on the role of the local public library during my formative years, even though the library I ended up working in bears little resemblance to that small but valuable institution in Cary, Illinois. (It's weird to me that they have a website--since they had only a couple of rooms when I was young--but they do.)

In grade school I was part of the Book It! program every summer. I would have to carefully write out my reading list on a sheet of construction paper on which I had drawn ruled lines, evenly spaced apart. For each book I finished--my all-time favorite was The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright--I would get a gold star next to the title. Soon the gold stars would fill up the poster, which I proudly displayed next to my closet. If I read all my summer choices, I was treated to a pizza party at the local Pizza Hut. I'm amazed that this kind of food-incentivized reading program still exists, but I can't say enough about its role in my own reading, not to mention my library-awareness.

In high school I spent my afternoons and weekends in the reference room wrestling with huge, green volumes of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. I would look up references to my favorite bands, and then meticulously fill out call slips and take them downstairs where the periodicals librarian would hand me copies of People or Rolling Stone that I would then pore over for hours, learning what Michael Stipe's college major was, or obsessing over what John Linnell's mother did for a living.

This all seems significant to me now, given that I blog weekly about librarianship and can hardly resist weaving in musical references. But at the time--and the importance of this cannot be underestimated--this was all just an afterthought. I grew up at the library. Books were like air. It did not occur to me to become a librarian.

Like many of us, I had other career ideas during college, and for a number of years afterward. I studied psychology and French, and then joined the Peace Corps as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Even then I didn't see too many obvious connections with librarianship, but I did select as my "secondary" or summer project the daunting (and dirty) task of organizing my school's unused warehouse of books, "cataloging" them (before I had any sense of what that meant), and suggesting possible ways teachers could use them in their respective curricula. I was becoming a librarian.

Wara Middle School, Kankalabe, Guinea, West Africa

After a short but intense career in educational testing, I found that what I really enjoyed in the workplace was wrangling technology and training other people to do so. I was fresh out of graduate school in another discipline and the thought of going back, and taking on more educational debt, seemed crazy. Still, the field I was in was not a good fit for me. Something was missing. I wasn't sure if it was technology or people or both. Enter library school.

In retrospect, the library ethic and orientation were always in me, alive and well, if dormant for many years. For me, it took having a few different jobs to realize what I was and wasn't good at, and which of my interests were simply hobbies or intellectual curiosities, as opposed to the beginnings of a profession.

Go to now. I've found a way to combine my passion for language and literacy, my teaching background, my tech skills, my people skills, my service orientation, attention to detail, steel-trap memory, and most especially my love of reading, all in one satisfying career. Those are my library roots.

February 9, 2011

SMUG Part 2: Power of the Hashtag

In October I helped with the first gathering of our Social Media Users Group (SMUG). This was an effort to inventory our social media strategies, and to help each program team brainstorm original content in order to reduce duplication. Much of our conversation revolved around the eight feeds that now make up our organizational Twitter presence.

Those disparate bits of conversation--splayed across giant 3M flip-chart paper and taking up residence in my office--have finally been synthesized into a couple of documents. Tomorrow we'll take on the pieces that relate to what I'm calling the Power of the Hashtag.

Hashtags are user-created metadata; what's not to love? The librarians among you will get that joke.

I've seen some bad Tweets in my time, and some of the worst have come from people I encouraged to join me in the Land of @ and #. I feel more than responsible for showing them the way. And not only do I want standards for this metadata, I want us to harness its power for good, and not for confusion/obfuscation/obscenity/randomness/fill-in-the-blank. I've also seen the hashtag used excellently. It continues to evolve.

For our second SMUG gathering we'll have two main points of focus. One is declarative: TWITTER SYNTAX IS TRICKY; USE CAUTION. I have a juicy little "What's wrong with this Tweet?" worksheet for this part. The other is a question to get the discussion rolling, with some pre-supplied flip-chart-able answers: Why use a hashtag?
TO RESPOND to a conversation.
(To be ironic.)*
*We're going to strongly discourage this type of hashtagging at work.

I hope our guests walk away knowing that you should never # when you can @ unless... (I have a decision flow-chart for this one.) If time permits we will get into cryptic conference hashtags and conventions for state names--both in terms of #NY versus #NewYork, and the relative value of Tweeting about our work in #Nebraska if we run the risk of getting drowned out by #Cornhuskers results.

When people feel comfortable with the basics, we might get into sponsored hashtag results (still investigating this), and link truncation woes when using the Tweet button from within a website. (Beware automation!) And now that we know the shortened form of the "via" convention, we have two extra characters to put to work--a temptation best resisted.

P.S. Blogger's spellcheck doesn't like "metadata" or "hashtag".

February 2, 2011

Return to Search

My Week of Extreme Slow was a success: I was as careful with each task as I was when I first started this job, except that this time I knew what I was doing. I had made the decision to try this for the sake of competence, and not necessarily as a spiritual "slow down." Nevertheless, I couldn't help but hear a great lyric from Tift Merritt looping in my head: "Most days I want to speed up; seems like I ought to slow down."

I was fortunate to have two veritable research requests during my Week of Extreme Slow. I don't know about you, but my job isn't exactly the way I pictured it would be when I was library school. I remember fondly that we had to make videos of ourselves doing reference interviews with mock search scenarios and then critique our own "performances." In that same class my teacher had us fill up blue books with kilometric Boolean equations. It may have seemed artificial and complex then, but it came in handy during an impromptu reference interview with a coworker.

My colleague was sure she had read "something" about how Detroit has run out of big box stores, with related statistics about urban nutrition. We talked for about twenty minutes, and I found myself drawn to the nearest blank sheet of paper so I could casually map out what we were saying. To my surprise it started looking like the draft stage of one of those reference exams--post-interview stage and pre-Boolean.

Besides capturing anything my coworker could remember about the topic, I tried to find out how long she thought it had been since she read this article or whether she remembered anything about the context. She knew she had seen it online, and fleetingly--possibly linked to a Twitter post. You know how it is when you're going through your own brain trying to figure out when or where you read something? It was like that except we were working together to pin down any clues, and I was jotting it all down. I also made sure to ask her if she needed this particular article or if anything describing the situation in Detroit would do. We agreed that I would try to find the essential information, and she would try to find the exact article, and then we would compare search strategies.

After some careful thought and planning, I found the article in my first minute of searching. The magic search phrase ended up being "food deserts detroit site:.gov." I limited myself to government sites only to get a manageable number of results to start with, but that ended up taking me directly to the article. (And here, by the way, is the not-so-elusive-after-all article.)

In the end it was not hard to locate the information, but my colleague and I front-loaded the work by mapping it out verbally before taking ourselves to the search box. It was a satisfying and collaborative conversation. It reminded me of what we always say about librarianship being the perfect marriage between people and technology.

If it seems insignificant to document one little search conversation, consider this: If you're a student, you need real examples of how what you're learning may be needed on the job. If you're not a student...well you might be a collector of search scenarios, in which case you can let me know in the comments what other paths I could have taken on my most recent search adventure.