Twitter is an invaluable tool for scholars in the fields of cultural heritage informatics and digital humanities. It enables a network of scholarly communication fueled by an enthusiasm for inquiry, sharing, and discussion that spans geographic distance and crosses the disciplines. Twitter demonstrates incredible potential as a tool for scholarly communication within the context of academic conferences. “Livetweeting” conference sessions – sharing quotations, links, and commentary in real-time using Twitter – has become a common practice at academic conferences. Twitter users who livetweet during the conference use hashtags, keywords denoted with a “#” symbol, to categorize their tweets and link them to a common stream of information. Conference hashtags are sometimes predetermined by the organizers or developed ad hoc by the users themselves. This stream of categorized conference tweets comprises the conference backchannel. Backchannels on Twitter are utilized by conference attendees to discuss, comment, and inquire about conference talks; as well as to address practical needs like location of food, coffee, and electrical outlets. Conference backchannels are also utilized by outside observers who could not travel to the conference and Twitter users who discover the backchannel through one of the Twitter users they follow.
Although conference backchannels can be a rich resource for attendees and observers alike, they can inhibit discourse in two ways. First, conference backchannels can become fractured when people utilize different hashtags to categorize their conference tweets. This results in the presence of discursive silos, or disunited, forked backchannels for the same conference. Second, though Twitter hashtags are used to mediate and aggregate conference tweets for scholars attending or following the event, such tweets can be inaccessible to outsiders, even if the conversation is one that interests them, because conference hashtags often look like complete nonsense (e.g. #cccc11, #cw2012, #ir11, #HASTAC2011). These two inhibitors limit the potential for productive scholarly discourse to take place in a conference backchannel.
Created by Rachael Hodder (MA candidate, Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing), the web application Corridor addresses the problems associated with Twitter backchannel communication at academic conferences by collecting and collating metadata for hashtags. Corridor serves as a reference tool for conference and social media newcomers alike by contextualizing conference hashtags and displaying user-curated metadata about specific conferences in an easy-to-use web interface. Conference metadata includes the title of the conference, location, dates, session information, disciplinary affiliations, and relevant links.
Corridor solves the problem of redundant conference hashtags. Relying on user-submitted data, the application tracks relations or connections between other hashtags used at one conference as a means of resolving redundant hashtags. For instance, conference attendees tweeted during the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 2011 using several different hashtags: the organization-approved #cccc2011, as well as ad-hoc hashtags like #cccc11 and #cccc. Redundant conference hashtags contribute to a fractured conference backchannel comprised of multiple discursive silos. The effect of these silos for conference attendees who are trying to engage via Twitter is akin to being marooned on an island alone or only a few others while the rest of the population resides on another island. Though Twitter poses great potentiality for increasing the scope of scholarly communication, discursive silos significantly complicate communications between scholars across distance and the disciplines.
Backchannels are an important discursive space for scholarly communication in the domains of cultural heritage informatics and digital humanities. Desktop and mobile applications, such as Twitter for Mac/Windows, Tweetdeck, and Tweetbot for iOS, include features that allow users to follow single hashtags, however they do not offer the tools for users to contextualize conference hashtags and coallate redundant hashtags into a single stream. The current ecology of Twitter applications and third-party tools does not fulfill the needs of academic audiences and instead,
teachers, researchers, students, and professionals are tasked with finding the right mix of tools to help them follow and participate in the conference backchannel discourse.
Corridor also includes features that enable Twitter authentication for user accounts and social or crowd-sourced moderation as a means to maintaining the metadata ecosystem. Future iterations include tools for sorting tweets by time, user, and location; metrics for measuring the rhetorical velocity of individual tweets or Twitter users; conference tag clouds based on keywords from tweets; and conference-specific density maps that demonstrate the locations of conference tweets.