Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that allows short updates (or tweets) to be constructed of 140 characters or less. An update will include the name of the account holder, prefixed with the @ symbol and may also include a hyperlink if entered by the user. A tweet or update can be viewed by anyone unless the account is restricted to those who request access to view the account. No registration or login is required to view tweets, but in order to reply to them or to receive regular tweets as they are published then a free account is required.
Launched in 2006, Twitter has become a popular tool for providing short pieces of information or opinion across a variety of sectors. The number of twitter users is estimated at 12 million users in the United States alone although there is no data to suggest how many accounts are in active use, the frequency or regularity of account usage, or indeed the content of the short messages that are created. Nielson Online reported in March 2008 a total of 14 million US visitors to twitter, Emarkerter.com calculated 6 million US users in 2008, rising to 12 million in 2009 and 18 million in 2010.
Initially, Twitter was predominantly used by private individuals and celebrities, however, with a change to the website’s prompt where updates are entered into Twitter from ‘What are you doing?’ to ‘What is happening?’ and the widespread update and adoption of Twitter in general, more businesses and organisations are using Twitter to supplement their website, blog or online presence in general.
UKCLE’s twitter account was first used on 13 April 2010. In the one year period to 12 April 2011 there have been 182 updates to the account. These tweets comprise:
- Manually entered tweets 17+11+62=90 (50%)
- Re-tweets (RT) 35 (19%)
- Automated tweets 24+5+13+12=54 (31%)
The account was maintained by Michael Bromby and Lauren Goodchild, and subsequently by Michael Bromby, Danielle Lysaght and Sarah Stacey. The updates were made using the main twitter site, the co-authoring service Hootsuite and the automated service Twitterfeed.
Manually entered tweets
The manually entered updates predominantly featured news relating to UKCLE events or additions to the website, dates of conference and events. They also contained web links using the shortening function of bit.ly or ow.ly. Manual entered tweets also included the #followfriday feature which has become a practice among many twitter users to highlight some of the twitter users that they find interesting and provide a list of names or user accounts on a Friday along with the hash-tag #ff or #followfriday. This was adopted by the UKCLE account in the earlier part of the year to expand our presence on twitter and to gain a wider audience. This would frequently result in either a public or direct (private) message with a note of thanks for the mention, or inclusion of the @hea_UKCLE tag in a #ff tweet of their own. The concept of follow Friday was adopted slightly to have a thematic grouping of users each week. Examples include:
#followfriday #ff with a law news theme: @LegalNewsUK @TimesLaw @inner_temple @ScotsLawNews @IP_Law_News,Fri Apr 30 13:20:13 +0000 2010
#FollowFriday UK academic session starts soon - law librarian theme: @bulawlibrary @thelawbod @SueHouse @UWElawlibrarian @nuliblaw,Fri Sep 03 09:05:02 +0000 2010
#ff student theme: National Law Student Forum this week http://ow.ly/34Spc @kslawsoc @lselawsociety @Essex Uni Law Soc @PortsmouthLaw,Fri Nov 05 10:48:48 +0000 2010
In total, the manually entered tweets comprised 50% (n=90) of all UKCLE twitter activity. #ff tweets were made on 17 occasions and a total of 75 twitter users were given a mention as part of this feature.
Re-tweets (RTs) are the repetition of fellow user updates that are then circulated to the original account holder’s followers. The purpose of an RT is not only to circulate content more widely, but also acts as an advertising mechanism to introduce users to each other as each RT contains the content as well as the username and logo of the original author. Example RTs are:
RT @lilianedwards: Really good analysis costs of online Masters delivery - real value in tutoring not content - http://tinyurl.com/2vv98b7,Wed Nov 24 15:37:41 +0000 2010
RT @colmmu: Legal Think Tank Calls for Major Shake Up of Legal Education http://me.lt/4UmA, Mon Nov 22 18:08:17 +0000 2010
RT @cearta: Tech and Law - Find ECJ (European Court Justice) cases quickly from the case reference http://is.gd/8Mbr6H <~ Very useful indeed, Fri Jan 14 10:52:40 +0000 2011
The UKCLE RTs (%, n=35) were drawn from 28 different users. This reflected the wide range of accounts that were followed by UKCLE and, to some extent, indicated accounts which were felt to contain relevant and reliable content both for the tweet that was re-tweeted and their tweets in general.
Automated tweets arose from a number of services that were programmed to send out alerts in response to RSS updates elsewhere on the web. These arose from the Digital Directions blog, Julian Webb’s blog hEaD SPACE, the UKCLE news alert and the UKCLE slideshare site. The service
Twitterfeed allows the inclusion of other tweets drawn from RSS feeds to be made automatically. For example:
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Casebooks: from Langdell to H2O: Earlier this week Kevin Ramakrishna at the Best Practices f... http://bit.ly/b6C1MI,Thu Sep 23 14:46:47 +0000 2010
hEaD SPACE: Live blogging from ILEC IV: At Stanford University for the fourth International Legal Ethics Conferenc... http://bit.ly/c9PwKV,Sat Jul 17 19:19:48 +0000 2010
UKCLE NEWS: Using simulation in teaching and learning: Simshare SIMPLE and the OER approach: This is a collabor... http://bit.ly/9RSrtg,Tue Nov 09 10:06:23 +0000 2010
UKCLE SLIDESHARE: Podcasting: Slides for the presentation by Chris Hull (St Mary’s University College Twickenham... http://bit.ly/c7PGuS,Wed Apr 28 09:56:12 +0000 2010
These four were chosen as there is little or no editorial control over the automated service other than deleting a tweet (if it is thought to be irrelevant or undesirable) once it has been retweeted. From these automated tweets, 24 arose from Digital Directions, 5 from hEaD SPACE, 13 from UKCLE NEWS and 12 from SLIDESHARE, totaling 54, or 31% of all activity.
It is possible to monitor who follows a twitter account. This is not an indication of active participation but does offer an indication of the level of readership and, more interestingly, the people who have chosen to follow the UKCLE account.
As of 12 April, there were 394 followers. This number has altered throughout the year, however it has in general increased rather than decreased. There has been no detailed analysis, but the followers can be categorized broadly into three distinct groups: HEIs (such as law schools and universities), bodies corporate (such as law firms or publishers) and individuals (such as academics or students).
One measure of active participation is to examine whether the web links provided within the tweet are followed. All automated tweets containing hyperlinks (31% of all tweets, n=54) were shortened using the bit.ly website. This service offers some analysis of the number of clicks that are made through the short link to the full url, although this is limited to the automated tweets only.
An indicator of perceived value or interest in the UKCLE tweets can be gained from whether the updates are re-tweeted by other users. 47 tweets were re-tweeted by a total of 62 users.
Twitter users are permitted to create lists of users which they follow and give such a list a name. These lists may be privately kept by the user or made public for others to see and follow. UKCLE created 8 such lists to assist followers in finding relevant legal or educational twitter feeds:
- UK Law Schools using Twitter
- US Law Schools using Twitter
- Law Librarians (UK)
- Legal Academics
- Law Firms
- Legal News
- Law Publishers
- HEA and Higher Education
The lists were not exhaustive, however they were maintained and updated when new twitter accounts were discovered.
UKCLE appeared on a variety of lists (n=22 on 12 April 2011) under a variety of list names:
- Higher Education
- Law Schools
- Law Stuff
The UKCLE account follows a number of notable persons or organisations. Largely, these are academics, practitioners/law firms, news reporters, students or similar organisations in the UK or internationally. The prime reason for selecting followers was to identify other tweets worth of re-tweeting. The UKCLE account was following 397 other accounts on 12 April 2011. There may be some overlap between followers and following as there is a perceived practice of following those who follow you as a matter of courtesy or common practice. However, there are a large number of spam accounts or accounts which simply act as advertising and not as conversations.