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One of the things that I suppose we take for granted now is the use of twitter hashtags for conferences and events. It’s almost an assumption if you go to any HE library-related event that there will be a hashtag, some ‘back-channel’ discussion about the event before, during and after, whether you are physically attending the event or not. So we were using #irm10 for our Innovations in Reference Management event earlier in the week.

But it wasn’t until I was asked by someone from outside the sector for some thoughts about using twitter from conferences that I actually took the time to unpick the mechanics of what you need to do to use twitter with conferences. So it seemed like an idea to write up what turned out to be a list of ten tips for using twitter with your conference:

  1. Decide on an appropriate hash tag , essentially anything starting with # – so you could use #irm10 for Innovations in Reference Management 2010 for example.
  2. Don’t make the tag too long – it uses up your 140 characters after all
  3. Search for the tag you choose to make sure no one else is using it already – it’s not an absolute guide as you can’t stop someone else picking the tag you’ve decided on – but at least you stops you picking a tag that is in regular (or unfortunate) use for something else – potentially confusing your audience with irrelevant tweets
  4. Publicise the hashtag in your conference literature and on email so people can use it before the event as well as during it – you might need to explain what it is ‘If you are going to tweet about the event please use our hashtag #…’
  5. Send messages out yourself using the hashtag about the conference in the run up to the event – through a recognized twitter account associated with the organization maybe?
  6. Twitter should be used in addition to the normal communication means as many people don’t use it and it isn’t a formal channel
  7. See if you can get some people who are attending to use the hashtag before, during and after the conference to tweet about the conference, about the individual conference sessions and impressions
  8. You can keep the tweets using a tool like http://twapperkeeper.com
  9. As organizers keep an eye on what is being said on twitter about the conference – and respond with direct messages to people
  10. You can often get good feedback about the conference via twitter – people who write blog posts often publicise them via twitter so keep an eye on the twitter stream with that hastag for a few days after the conference

From a personal point of view in terms of experience of using twitter at conferences if you follow a hashtag for a conference you can often find other interesting people to follow. Often you’ll come across people you follow on twitter at conferences and sometimes end up having a twitter ‘conversation’ with them during the conference about something that is said. That ‘back-channel’ discussion is often useful in clarifying, explaining or developing discussions about what is said at the conference.

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Over the past year and a bit I’ve been working with the team at the OU working on the Telstar project. Earlier today we ran the second Innovations in Reference Management event and coming home on the train I had a few thoughts about the two IRM events (in Milton Keynes in a snowy January and in a much warmer Birmingham today). www.open.ac.uk/blogs/telstar/

Today’s well-attended event in a really nice location in the centre of Birmingham (http://www.studiovenues.co.uk/) covered a wide spectrum of reference management aspects: from digital literacy, through different reference management systems, to referencing for the web and citing datasets, to practical sessions on systems in use.

Before we had the first event in January we did have a moment of doubt that there was sufficient interest in reference management. The answer, with over 100 attendees across the two events (and with more than 300 members signed up to the recently created Jiscmail list Reading-List-Solutions https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=READING-LIST-SOLUTIONS) seems to be a fairly unqualified yes. And that got me wondering about what it was that was driving that interest.

So a few ideas about what might be driving that interest.

Firstly, there are an increasing number of different solutions. Increasingly the personal and local systems are being supplanted by web and collaborative ones. Some Mendeley (http://www.mendeley.com/) and Zotero (http://www.zotero.org) come out of the needs of researchers, others such as the Aspire reading list solution (http://www.talis.com/aspire/) come out of library requirements. But there are many more systems and much more interest.

Secondly, there are a range of different people who are interested in these systems – librarians, academics, researchers, information literacy people, technical people and data curators

Then there’s a big information and digital literacy aspect of reference management with interest around fostering good academic and pedagogical practice, around digital scholarship and around tackling plagiarism by fostering an understanding of why students should cite the sources they use.

Next there’s the whole area (and something that is growing more and more important) about reuse, efficiency savings, not reinventing the wheel, improving workflows and about not doing unnecessary or duplicating work

And finally, there’s a lot of innovation in this area. From traditional systems moving to the web or introducing APIs, to the new web-native players such as Zotero and Mendeley, to the challenges around citing new types of material. All of which indicates an area of increasing interest.

So there’s a challenge here. Telstar, almost incidentally, through the two IRM events has managed to help to identify a community of interest and practice. The Reading-List-Solutions jiscmail list may give that nascent community a longer-term voice after the Telstar project ends, and perhaps it is wishful thinking to suggest that ‘Innovations in Reference Management’ might be an idea that should live on?

Thanks to Owen and everyone who has worked on the various bits of the Telstar project through early ideas, through development to the present day.

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