Implementing Social Media in Your Organization: A Twitter Unpanel
To Polish Those 140 Characters to Perfection

Enhancing What Social Media Does Right and Reducing What it Does Wrong

Via Workplace Learning Today comes this article on the distractions of tagging. Apparently, according to Erica Naone,  research indicates that tagging an article (as in Delicious) actually reduces our ability to remember what we've read:

Raluca Budiu, a user-experience specialist for the Nielsen Norman Group, asked the audience whether typing in tags for articles would help them remember key concepts. The answer, according to her research, is no. Users remembered less after typing in tags than after simply reading an article online.

On the surface, it seems like tags should be helpful, Budiu said, since they increase a user's engagement with an article. In addition to reading, the user considers what tags to give it and enters them. It sounds similar to highlighting key passages of a textbook, or making notes in the margin. So why should they reduce recall?

Budiu found that adding tags cut into the time that each user spent actually reading an article in the first place. In other words, paying attention to tags came at the cost of paying attention to the text.

Erica concludes:

For social media to truly work for us, we need to enhance what it does right and reduce what it does wrong.

This is a really important issue for learning that I think can get lost in the distraction of these shiny objects we call social media. Take Erica's tagging example. I love tagging. I do it all the time. But if I really think about it, I have tons of articles queued up in my Delicious account that I have either not read carefully or that I never return to again. In fact, I have a full list of articles in my Netvibes tagged "toread" that have never been read. Yet I somehow believe that the mere act of tagging has added to my knowledge base. Sadly the research makes me acknowledge that this is not so. 

Back to Erica's point that we need to enhance what social media does right and reduce what it does wrong. In the case of tagging, she points us to, which supports "easy keyword tagging directly over web content being browsed." This reduces the amount of time we spend tagging outside of the context of the article, thus increasing the amount of time we are actively engaging with it. An elegant solution to an insidious little problem.

But what of other social media distractions and issues?  I've written before about the dangers of homophily on the web and how social media tools actually promote "birds of a feather" syndrome. In part this is because the characteristics of social software draw together like-minded groups. Social media does a great job of helping us develop connections to people like us, but is less effective in promoting the diversity so necessary to innovation and creative thought. How do we address this, both in terms of actual tools that encourage exploration of diverse ideas and thought processes, as well as in terms of HOW we use existing social media tools?

Another issue is the noise to signal ratio. Many social media tools are inherently good at bringing in information, but you have to go looking for tools and strategies to then help you extract the most useful or interesting bits. One of the biggest complaints I hear from new users of social media is that the content quickly becomes overwhelming. It takes work and thought to manage this onslaught. Interestingly, the tools necessary to manage information overload are often separate from the tools that brought you the overload in the first place. I think of Twitter, for example, which seems to require users to go looking for third-party apps that allow them to use it most effectively. Why aren't these built in in the first place?

I also worry about the extent to which we integrate too many social media options into our learning. It's now possible to participate in a live learning event supported by liveblogging, a Twitter backchannel, text and IM discussions with colleagues in other locations, research and bookmarking on Delicious, electronic voting and the development of a wiki for resources--all at the same time. At what point does "active engagement" with the learning activity simply become "incredibly distracted"? And if some tool is to be excluded, which one should it be? Don't get me wrong. I fully support integration of social media into the learning experience, but also have reached a point where I think "at what cost?"

These are a couple of examples that come quickly to mind, but this is an issue that deserves further exploration.

Where do you see places we need to enhance what social media does right or reduce what it does wrong, particularly in regard to learning and professional development?


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I think what all of this is really saying is that we need to be purposeful in our use of technology.

I use the tags in delicious as a way to identify resources that I need in my research and classes. When I am looking for a resource, for example, that will support my teaching a speech concept, I click on the tag which id's the course number (I identify class resources through course id tag). I use delicious for those purposes only because it allows me to organize those resources.

I use the ning for my class to create class community, and a public record outside of class for questions and class policies.

I do not use twitter because I don't see (at this point) how it will add to the things that I do. However, I would like for my children's school to use twitter so I could have an update of what is going on in school. I have just heard how some law enforcement agencies have decided to use twitter for things such as traffic control and amber alerts. I don't have these needs in my teaching at this point so I have not invested the time to learn twitter.

I think the lesson to be learned is to analyze what you want to do, find the tool(s) that will help you acheive it, then set the tools up for your own use (not necessarily the way others use it). We need to be more purposeful in the choice, set up, and use of the tools we have available. At the same time, it is important that we are aware of new tools and how they might help us

Interesting concept! Over the past couple of years since I was introduced to social media and bookmarking in particular, I too have gone in search of somehow streamlining my participation online.

I tend to disagree with the tags taking away from the article as tags organize my research. Like Virginia said, she uses tags for her teaching and has tag ID's for her course numbers. My tags help me go back to an article/video/document I have found important for my work.

Diigo works well for highlighting text and leaving notes on web pages. I hadn't heard of before however, it looks similar to Diigo.

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