Smithsonian Libraries, plus some thoughts on the nature of the tweet.


I logged on to Twitter planning to gather my thoughts about its use by the Smithsonian Libraries. The next thing I knew, an hour had passed and I was thoroughly absorbed in the Libraries’ online collections, particularly the Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music. From an organizational perspective, this seems like an ideal result, especially when it happens with someone like me, someone not at all inclined to click around on the Web. As you might expect, the Smithsonian Libraries have a lovely website, characterized by enticing images and links that tell you exactly what you’re getting. It’s easy to get lost, but in a good way, in the way you’d anticipate getting lost if you visited the Smithsonian itself.


Image used under Creative Commons License.


Again, this would seem to be a great outcome for a tweet. But it made me see a certain tension in Twitter. Or maybe tension isn’t the right word but rather, something I haven’t figured out yet. Most of the time when I go to the Internet, I want to get what I came for and head back out. Twitter would seem to lend itself to that, to quickly giving patrons important information (when and where an event is happening) and then let them get on with their lives. But at least in the case of the Smithsonian Libraries, the tweets I like best are the ones that serve as teasers.

Which makes me think that, as an organization, you really can’t just fire off a tweet based on whatever happens to be going on. You need to consider what each tweet’s purpose is — should it inform or entice?

Should the tweet that’s designed to inform appear in the same feed as the tweet that entices? This is a case where I wish I could somehow filter the tweets that I see. I love the ones dealing with ephemera; looking through them, I found myself clicking on to more content than I would have expected. Not living anywhere near the Smithsonian, the brief informational tweets don’t do much for me. And, if I happened to be anywhere near DC, I’d probably want to get that information from another source, like an events calendar.


Nope, not even close.

With an organization this large and with this much material, I do wonder if it makes sense to set up more than one Twitter feed. I’m not sure. On the one hand, maybe it’s good that this is, simply, the nature of the beast, that not every tweet will have relevance to every user and that, as a user, you may have to wade through a lot of irrelevant posts to get to what you want. It seems like a way to avoid the filter bubbles that we discussed earlier this term, which creep me out to no end… I’m certainly not in love with wasting a lot of time searching around to find something that’s relevant to me or that I just happen to like or whatever. But I hate the idea of getting online and stepping into a Carrie-shaped hole in the universe, a glimpse of information that’s built according to a network’s sense of who I am. (And of course, the picture gets even scarier if the network is correct.)

But. I could still see a place for slightly more tailored feeds. In the case of the Smithsonian Libraries, I would like one for event notifications and one for everything else. I think this makes sense in a very large organization with close to seven thousand Twitter followers.

The image of the Smithsonian can be found at Famous Wonders.


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