Brief thoughts on Twitter

Today at noon I will be one of the panelists at a brownbag lunch session titled “Blogs, Writing Groups, Digital Classrooms, and More: Managing Your Academic Career in the Online Era” at the triennial meeting of the Southern Association of Women Historians. While our objective is to have more conversation than commentary, my part of the initial remarks focuses on twitter (for history grad students). What follows are my basic thoughts, in bullet form, and then a list of articles and blog posts about tweeting which might be useful. Please feel free to add your thoughts or recommended reading in the comments.

three columns in tweetdeck showing tweets from June 2015
Just three of my thirteen tweetdeck columns



  • Pick a username that works for you – but know that it’s (probably) possible to change it later. Also, your display name is very easy to change. If I were joining twitter today, I probably wouldn’t be @magpie; on the other hand, the username I would pick is taken by someone who never tweets. While it’s possible to change your username, it can take people a while to catch on and you might miss some tweets.
  • Don’t be an Egg! As soon as you join, upload a profile picture and add some information in the profile text. People are more likely to follow you if they can get an idea of who you are and/or what you’re interested in.
  • You don’t have to tweet everything. It’s okay to only tweet every so often. Find your rhythm. You might prefer to tweet during conferences, or only engage in conversations.
  • Think before you link accounts. You can link twitter with Facebook, instagram, and other services, allowing them to tweet from your account when you update. This can be nice, but it can also spam your feed.
  • Be aware of your audience – and that it might be bigger than you think. This is addressed at length in some of the resources below, but unless your account is locked, anyone on the internet can see what you’re saying. Don’t let this silence you – I still tweet that my cats are annoying, my nephews are sweet, etc – but you may occasionally want to ask yourself “does this need to be said by me now?” (note: composing and then deleting a tweet can be very cathartic)
  • Twitter is conversational – but sometimes your conversation partner is a good listener. It is easy to think of Twitter in a similar vein to Facebook and be disappointed when your tweets are not all retweeted, favorited, and replied to. A lack of response does not mean that people are not reading your tweets. Sometimes it simply means that they do not have a response.

A practical note: I maintain 3 twitter accounts of my own and have access to three twitter accounts for work. I would be unable to do this without two things: lists and TweetDeck. Lists are a way of grouping people you want to follow, and TweetDeck allows you to see multiple columns, of lists, mentions, direct messages, or searches. On an average day, I have 15 columns in my desktop TweetDeck client. There are other services out there which have similar functions, the most popular (as far as I know) being HootSuite.


And: PhD Comics: “Why Academics Really Use Twitter”.

Papers of the War Department

One of the projects I work on at RRCHNM is the Papers of the War Department. I’m fond of it because it was the only project I worked on my first year, it falls within my temporal period of study, and I’ve discovered some very entertaining letters which generating metadata and summaries for it. Lately I’ve been working on trying to increase the project’s visibility, especially as other crowdsourcing projects like the Smithsonian Transcription Center and projects out of NYPL Labs take off.

To that end, I wrote a guest post for the 18th Century Common which has, thus far, been very well received. Digging into the stories of Corbin, along with individuals like the Mrs. Greatons, Samuel Hodgdon, and Isaac Craig (who has lovely handwriting), has been one of the pleasures of working on the Papers project.

Some of the tools I use

My work life this summer has been predominantly focused on two summer institutes, one for art historians and one for historians, which give the participants an introduction to concepts and methods in digital (art) history. It was a lot of information to pack into two weeks per institute, and very thought-provoking for everyone involved.

As the title of this post suggests, the participants’ questions and concerns made me think about my digital workflow(s). Not only in the archives (I’ve been chewing on that for a while), but in the day to day. There are a lot of tools – mostly software or software-as-service – which I and other graduate students use on a daily basis that were completely new to many of the participants.

What follows are just the things I use frequently and how I use them. When I need a new tool, I usually ask around on twitter and check out the archives of GradHacker and ProfHacker, especially their categories/tags for tools, technology, and software. Continue reading “Some of the tools I use”

SVG and WordPress

Palladio is a lovely visualization tool, with the ability to export graphs to svg and save your work. But using it posed a new question: how the heck do I display an svg file in a WordPress post without digging into the CSS or php?*

I tried installing two plugins, one of which allowed me to upload an svg file as media but did not make it appear when added to a post. The other plugin broke the public side of my WordPress install. So then I uploaded the file to my server space outside of a CMS and copied the html code from a support forum post, which displayed the image but at very large size:

<object width=”300″ height=”150″ type=”image/svg+xml” data=”[url]”>Your browser does not support SVG</object>

I went poking around and found a list of ways to add SVG to a web page. As I’d already uploaded the svg file somewhere other than WordPress’ media library (since svg isn’t an allowed type), I tried just using an img tag. Reference this list to see which browsers and versions support svg in the html image tag. And success, of a sort. The image at least scaled down (the large amount of white space at the top is part of the original image).

It’s not exactly elegant, but it worked. Next test is to re-install the plugin which allows me to upload svg files and see if hand writing the code instead of using the Add Media function will work.

*Although I am capable of editing core files, I wanted to see if there was a way of displaying the svg file without having to mess with those files, for a variety of reasons.

How do we shuffle our cards?

Over the past few months I’ve had a quote, more of an idea really, rattling around in my head. The artist James C. Christensen wrote about how he thinks about creativity and new ideas using the metaphor of a library’s card catalog.

I never knew card catalogs, so in time the cards in the metaphor have gone from being library catalogs to the index cards I was taught to use to organize quotes and ideas when writing research papers. What follows is the first and last parts of the section where Christensen uses the metaphor (the whole discussion spreads out over two pages).

Card catalog drawer pulled out displaying card stack in profile
“Library of Congress Reading Room Open House 14” by Ted Eytan

“The way I see creativity and imagination is something like a library’s card catalog, except that the cards are made up of concepts, ideas, visions, pictures, all the faces of one’s personal life experiences …. The exercise comes about when one practices combining the cards and putting them together in new ways. All the Edisons, Einsteins, and da Vincis of the world were building upon stored information (cards they already had in their files), but they combined the cards in new ways. Their astonishing inspirations came about because they took what was known and saw it in a new light.” – James C. Christensen. A Journey of the Imagination: the art of James C. Christensen. With Renwick St. James. (Shelton, Connecticut: The Greenwich Workshop, 1994), 40-41.

Christensen means his metaphor to apply across fields, using the names of an inventor, a physicist, and an inventor-artist to describe the sorts of people who combine and rearrange their cards.

When I think about this metaphor in terms of the study and practice of history, the cards are facts or sources. Some of us rearrange the cards in new ways, to look at history from a previously unexplored perspective. Sometimes people try introducing new cards (race, gender, furniture, clothing, editorial cartoons) to change the way history is seen.

And sometimes we use the cards in completely new and different ways. We lay them out in a grid instead of in a stack, or build castles and houses, or make a long snake of cards overlapping. Digital history isn’t necessarily something completely new and different. We still have the old cards, but we’ve added new ones to the stack and we’re shuffling them in ways no one thought possible thirty, forty years ago. With so many people rearranging their cards, who knows what “astounding inspirations” will be brought to light.

Alternatives to Delicious

According the news, Delicious (an online bookmark manager) is being sent the way of the Dodo by Yahoo. I hadn’t even realized that Yahoo had acquired delicious, which I’ve been using off and on for years now.

So, the question becomes: if delicious is dead, what do we use instead? Suggestions thus far include:

  • Licorize – looks more focused for group work (tagline: “for the world wide tribe”)
  • Diigo
  • Xmarks
  • Evernote – I already use this, but with more emphasis on the “note” aspect. Still, it could work.

Comments or additions from the crowd?