The Tweet heard round the world
Is this the start of a revolution?
Imagine: librarians all over the world answering questions via Twitter. It’s a grassroots, always-open reference desk available to anyone with a computer or cell phone. The idea prompted me to respond: “The Librarian is Always On.” Amy has–as do many of us Twitterbrarians–Twitter friends in Europe and in Australia as well as all over North America. It would be my guess that between all of us, we could answer a question no matter the time of day. For me, tweets get a little sparse between midnight and 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time (GMT -500), but that’s nearly the workday for western Europe.
How would it work? We’re not sure it would. But to try, we have to take advantage of a few of Twitter’s features:
- We have to agree on a watchword, a series of characters that mark an incoming tweet as a question in need of an answer.
- Interested librarians would have to use Twitter’s tracking feature to scan for tweets containing the watchword.
- Replies would have to be sent as “@replies”–any tweet beginning with @<username> appears in a special tab in Twitter labelled “replies.” @replies seem to appear in this tab regardless of whether that person follows the author of the reply. (Admittedly, twitter only seems to work this way. Here is an opportunity for all of this to break down.)
- As additional insurance, questioners could use twitter to track their own Twitter user name–this would ensure that tweets containing the user name are received.
Points of failure:
- Questioner doesn’t use the proper watchword
- Answerer doesn’t construct the @reply properly
- User mysteriously doesn’t see @reply (sometimes they *only* appear in the replies tab)
- Tracking fails, meaning that not all trackers of the watchword see a question and/or not all users see their replies
- As David Fiander points out, both questioner and answerer would have to have public Twitter feeds
Brute force (i.e. sheer numbers of participating librarians) should address most of these points, assuming that the questioner uses the proper watchword.
So, what should the watchword be? #librarian, #libn?
What should we call this service? How about “HiveLibrarian:
Resistance is We’re Always On”?
I am also sure there’s an opportunity for the Q&A tweets to be harvested using the Twitter API and dumped into a knowledge base of some kind.
Why stop with librarians? What other professions could solicit queries this way (who would be willing to answer them the same way)?
As Amy posted on her wiki page: Am I crazy, or could this work?