The Jester Joins Twitter

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It was only a few months ago that I was teasing Dan Chudnov for joining Twitter. Now I've gone and done it myself. I don't expect to be using it much, but after observing the "Falls Church, VA" incident yesterday, I thought it would be an useful tool to have at-the-ready. Here's the story of what inspired it.

Someone on the Code4Lib IRC channel (was it 'lbjay'?) asked if anyone knew about an explosion in the Falls Church, VA, area after reading a report about it on Twitter. I ran a search in TweetScan for "Falls Church, VA" and was able to watch the event unfold as the "DC emergency tweet network" fired up. Eventually it was determined that it was indeed an earthquake event, but the discussion of the event via Twitter was enough to catch the attention of at least one media blogger.

It reminded me a great deal of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California. Many of the landlines were down or jammed with too many people calling, but the internet stayed up and an IRC channel was set up so that reports of the earthquake effects to be broadcast from the region. If the same thing to happen today, Twitter -- through the internet or through mobile devices -- would likely be the tool used to track the event.

Now, back to Twitter, here are the parts that I can't figure out. Almost immediately after I registered for the service and signed in for the first time, I was automatically following betseymerkel, someone who appears to be working with open source software in a Cleveland-area library. I don't remember doing anything to cause me to start following her, although I suppose it is possible I made a stray click somewhere. And through the first 24 hours with the account, four people are following me. I didn't tell anyone else about my activities -- the only two tweets I've posted dealt with setting up the account. I don't think I know any of these people (betseymerkel is one of them), so I don't get why they would spontaneously start following me. Thoughts?

Oh, and you can start following me, if you want. I'll probably follow colleagues during library conferences, but then use something like TwitterSnooze to turn off the chatter in-between events.

Next Day Follow-up

Another related story -- the Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus Blog reports on the use of Twitter during a lockdown at the University of Richmond on Tuesday. Jim Groom, an instructor at the University of Mary Washington, posted a blog entry about how he and others found information and comfort in the Twitter posts passing between rooms of the building and with the outside world. A commenter to the Chronicle's Wired Campus Blog entry notes, "ASU has an emergency text service, but it's not as fast as Twitter (when Twitter isn't down)." Which brings to mind dangers of relying on a free-to-use service as a primary -- or even simply expected -- mode of communication during times of emergencies.

The text was modified to update a link from to!/DataG/followers on January 28th, 2011.