Hashtags for the ALT-C 2009 Conference

This Year’s ALT-C Conference

I will be attending the ALT-C 2009 Conference at the University of Manchester in a couple of weeks time where I’ll be facilitating a session with Martin Weller on “Realising Dreams, Avoiding Nightmares, Accepting Responsibilities” – a title chosen to reflect the conference theme of “In dreams begins responsibility“.

Yesterday I was involved in discussions on Twitter regarding use of hashtags (hash tags?) for referring to specific sessions at the conference. The conference tag has already been agreed – it is altc2009 and this has been announced on the conference home page. Let’s hope that this high visibility avoids tag fragmentation.

But there are many sessions at ALT-C and many parallel sessions. So an active Twitter community – which we are likely to find at the conference – may well find itself talking at cross-purposes if nothing is done to differentiate between the sessions. It may also be useful to be able to be able to identify particular sessions using a short and unambiguous tag e.g. so people can say “Are you going to Brian’s session?” or “What did you think of Martin’s session?” without confusion and using fewer characters.

Experiences of Using Hashtags at UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 Event

At UKOLN’s recent IWMW 2009 event we allocated a two-digit code for the plenary talks (P1-P8) and the parallel sessions (A1-A9, B1-B4 and C1-C5) . This short code was used consistently on the Web site, initially for selection of the parallel sessions.

Hashtags used to find tweets about #iwmw2009 and #p3Shortly before the event we encouraged use of these codes, together with the codes we assigned for the plenary talks, in Twitter. And, as I’ve described previously, after the event we captured the tweets for the plenary talks and provided links to this record of discussions which used the Twitter hashtags in this fashion (see, for example, the tweets made during Paul Boag’s plenary talk P3 which is illustrated).

After the event we used the Archivist Twitter archiving tool in order to capture these tweets are store them locally. These local archives are available in CSV and XMLformats. As can be seen, for Paul Boag’s talk, 78 tweets containing the pair of hastags were found.

What To Do For ALT-C?

What approach should be taken to use of hashtags at this year’s ALT-C conference? A similar answer might be to do nothing other than use the event’s hashtag. After all, some may argue, Twitter’s strength is its simplicity and adding anything new is likely to undermine this simplicity. Whilst I’d agree with this sentiment I don’t feel that adding an additional optional tag is complex. And we know have some examples of the benefits of doing this, which I’ve described in a recent screencast published on this blog.

But how should we select the hashtags for the session? I recently discovered that the unique identifier for the workshop myself and Martin Weller are facilitating is 113. And looking at the conference introduction and abstracts which arrived in the post a few days ago it seems that the session ids range from 0012 to 0322. I’m assuming that the unique ids were assigned when the proposals were submitted as the numbers aren’t consecutive (hmm, were the first 11 proposals rejected, I wonder?). To avoid confusion and to save space I’d suggest that leading zeroes are ignored. So my proposal for a hashtag to identify the session would be #snnn – in my case this would be #s321 #altc321 and James Clay’s four sessions would have the identifiers #s208, #s221, #s286 and #s301.

These tags would be used in conjunction with the main conference tag. A Twitter search for “#altc2009 #s321″ should find tweets referring to my session. Simple? Indeed a simplification of my initial suggestion of #altcnnn as a session identifier.

But although this approach worked at IWMW 2009 and would work for my workshop session it has been pointed out to me that this approach won’t work for the sessions which have multiple papers being presented. Although the individual papers have a unique identifier, the sessions themselves do not. Owen Stephens suggested that the identifier used in the conference’s CrowdVine social networking environmentcould be used but this then causes potential confusion with the identifiers allocated by the conference and won’t easily be found by conference participants who aren’t using CrowdVine. And further discussions is only likely to lead to confusions and unnecessary complexity.

So my proposal is this:

  • The conference hashtag is #altc2009.
  • If Twitter users wish to identify a specific session they should use the #altc2009 hashtag in conjunction with a session tag which has the format #snnn when nnn is a the session identifier given in the conference programme, with leading zeroes omitted (the prefix s standards for the session identifier).

Is this approach worth trying?

Title slide for session at ALTC-C showing proposed Twitter codeIn light of the workshop session on Teaching With Twitter which Steve Wheeler will be giving at the ALT-C Conference, I can’t help but think we do need to be experimenting with ways in which Twitter can be used in a learning context and in enriching its use in community building.

Reflecting on Tony Hirst’s recent post on “A Quick Peek at the IWMW2009 Twitter Network” which analysed and visualised tweets at the IWMW 20009 event in order to “help to identify amplification networks” it occurs to me that something similar might be useful at a larger event such as ALT-C. Do, for example, the Twitterers who @ each other and RT tweets tend to go to the same sessions, I wonder?

And if you still think this may be too complicated I intend to include details of the session hashtag on the opening slide for the session Martin Weller and I will be facilitating, as illustrated.


  1. Sorry Brian, but I do think this scheme is too complicated for the lightweight Twitter approach. If I need to identify individual sessions, I’ll be using threading in the Friendfeed room: http://friendfeed.com/altc2009

  2. I really think this is trying to make Twitter something it isn’t. The very thing that people appreciate about Twitter is its lightweight nature and this is simply over complicating things. I think its a case of horses for courses and if there is a demand for this kind of granular reporting from event sessions then encourage the use of a more appropriate tool (maybe FriendFeed is the right choice?)

  3. Hi Alan – you could be right. It may be that we are pushing Twitter beyond its capabilities. As you know I do have an interest in Friendfeed, and I would agree this has several benefits over Twitter. The problems with this approach, though, include the lack of a community using FriendFeed and the lack of clients on the various devices people at ALT-C are likely to be using.

  4. When you first started suggesting multiple hashtags, I think I assumed it was a bit of a comedy experiment. Now, it’s becoming clear that The Librarian Is Too Strong In You.

    The obsession with tracking, capturing and archiving everything to the nth degree just doesn’t fit with Twitter. As I’ve said many times before, we don’t (do we ?!) feel the need to record and tag every conversation we have down the pub. The joy of Twitter is that it is transient, shifting, constantly moving, a conversation.

    You’ve said here and before that the use of these multiple tags *during* an event is an indicator of their success. This is a completely false measure. In order to evaluate multiple hashtag success, there needs to be evidence that people are *using* these hashtags, by making use of multiple tags to search or visualise these conversations *after* an event. I’m confident enough to eat my hat (or at least drink a pint of that horrible real ale stuff you bang on about) if you can demonstrate to me that there is a *considerable percentage* of people who make use of these levels of complexity. I am very confident that there won’t be.

    Twitter is successful in part because of its simplicity. Don’t damage it by doing that age-old IT thing of feature creeping it *just because you can*.

  5. Way too complicated, messy, and just so damn cluttered, Brian…. The granularity if too find grained for people who aren’t in a session to know what it refers to, unless the volume of tweeting is so great that people need to start filtering down by tag combinations?

    #altc2009 is relatively meaningful, but the session identifiers are not.

    Who is this fine level tagging supposed to benefit anyway, and how?

    Is there a solution that be contrived in other ways maybe? eg by using something like @helloapp ( http://carsonified.com/blog/carsonified/meet-helloapp-making-conferences-more-fun/ ) and partitioning conversations based on originators sitting in a particular session at a particular time (using time and space to anchor them in a session, or even a particular paper in a particular session) and then conversation graph analysis (based on people replying to a person or retweeting them) cf my iwmw2009 graphs?

  6. I’m in agreement with those that suggest this is over-complicating things – mainly because I struggle to see the problem it’s solving. If attendees at an event, or those following remotely, were being overwhelmed by the flow of tweets there would be a case for finding a way to condense or filter that information, and per-session tags or some other mechanism might be the answer to that even though it’s complicated.

    But I’ve not seen good evidence that there is a problem to be solved – most events I’ve seen simply don’t generate that much information on twitter, even when their tag starts trending. Complicated solutions to problems we don’t have are the bane of technology, and this feels like one. (I’ve been guilty of perpetrating a few myself.)

    It may well be that you have evidence that there is a problem, Brian – you’ve been using this and related technologies for longer than me and in more depth. If so, it would be good to see the evidence.

  7. Sorry Brian, I’m with the others here. Twitter is for catching the ‘buzz’ (or maybe the ‘yawn’ when I’m presenting). If we want to catalogue it and archive it then do a blog post or ah, one of those report things. At this rate we’ll reinvent the Dewey system for twitter (and call it Twewey and create a little firefox plug-in to automatically Twewey your tweet).

  8. In the past I’ve generally argued against multiple hashtags – agreeing with the comment that they introduce complexity. However, given the size of ALT-C, and the number of concurrent sessions, I have some sympathy with the issue that Brian raises – if you are interested in following a session on Twitter, it is going to be hard to see the wood from the trees. (as an aside, it seems likely that a single ALT-C tag will ‘trend’ leading to spam on that tag)

    Many hash tags start in a folksonomical way I guess – people just start using them. On the otherhand, some hash tags are agreed by some kind of ‘organisation’ – so a conference might publish an ‘official’ hashtag – these may lean towards a more structured approach – we can expect that the hashtags for IWMW will have a certain structure overtime.

    In this case it seems to me that Brian is trying to add structure to a folksonomical construct. Now, we may feel it is too complex an approach – but then, he’s just another person here. I think he does have some ‘authority’ over his session – and if he declares a hashtag when he starts speaking, I guess it is likely those tweeters attending will use it. Perhaps the difference is (and this is where it gets Librarian-y I guess) that he is trying to get widespread adoption of a scheme across the whole conference/community – where (sorry Brian) he has no innate authority.

    So – complex? Maybe – but what does this mean in practice? If it is ‘too complex’ surely people simply won’t follow his lead (presumably this is what we mean by ‘too complex’)? So his suggestion will succeed or fail on its merits, which seems fair enough. After all, we don’t criticise people for using a new hashtag in a tweet do we? We either follow their lead, or not.

  9. Thanks, all for the comments.

    I’d agree with Owen that. although I have the #’authority, to suggest a hashtag for my session, this isn’t the case generally for the conference. This was why I suggested the session ID as something one could use. But Owen’s right, the proof is in the pudding.

    Looking at the Twapperkeeper list of #altc2009 tags, it’s already getting busy. Will the size and complexity of the ALT-C conference cause problems with the use of a simple system like Twitter, I wonder?



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