It’s all the rage nowadays to write about Twitter. All the cool kids are doing it so I think I will chime in. It’s been a year since I have been on Twitter and during that year I rode a roller-coaster of feelings about Twitter’s usefulness. But in January I started sensing something emerging from my (relatively) small following or (in eduspeak) my PLN (Personal Learning Network). Twitter was fast replacing Google as my place of choice for finding out stuff. Don’t get me wrong. Google is where I went to find out mere facts, but Twitter was the go-to place to research concepts and ideas.
Remember, I am an Inquiry-Science teacher. I learned in my junior year of college that facts could (and should) be looked up in a CRC(ask your old science teacher what that is). But ideas had to be in your brain if you wanted to succeed @ tests or anything worthwhile(not that i am saying tests are worthwhile). I drive my students batty with my mantra that facts are not as important as concepts. Google is all about facts. Twitter is about concepts and ideas. Perhaps, this is why the media has a problem with Twitter. It used to be their place to transmit ideas through society. When they opted out of being an unbiased sources of ideas, something had to eventually replace them. Transmitting ideas is much more difficult than transmitting facts and it took a while for the Internet to fill the void. I think Twitter has started that replacement.
When listening to the prognosticators of the the web’s future, like Nova Spivak (see his video) ,words like “Singularity” and “Semantic Web” are bandied around. Educators like Karl Fisch(see his video) have used these predictions to wow people with visions of the future. Prediction are cool and get people excited but what about looking at what is currently here, in the present. I don’t think that many of these prognosticators are looking at the current connection between people and the Internet. Twitter has combined the best parts of Internet mainstays like Google and Amazon.com. Google succeeded because it was simple to use. Amazon.com succeeded not because it was simple, it flourished because it provided people with a sense of community at an Internet store. you went to Amazon because you got people’s opinions and ideas – not because it was cheaper or better or easier to use. Twitter has done exactly that with ideas – provided a way to pass along ideas simply, efficiently, and with a sense of fun and community. I feel that it has become the first edition of the Semantic Web.
If you don’t know what Semantic Web means – basically it is a web that understands what you mean – not what you type. Computers cannot understand your meaning without a lot more power and programming (and probably an Artificial intelligence.) But people can understand (usually) the idea behind statements and typos. We are built(aka programmed) to be able to tell the meaning between two seeming similar statements. If nothing else, that is what parents and school are for, aren’t they? However school can only teach you so much about understanding meaning. Meaning comes from the interaction between people and ideas. Twitter has provided just that – an access to a community to help understand and define the meaning between ideas, concepts, events and themselves. While many eschew computers and the internet for degrading relationships, others are finding ways to use it to replace faulty “real-life” communication. I know that the correspondence I have with my Twitter community has helped my teaching pedagogy and knowledge base. Being able to speak daily with members of NASA and other parts of the science community AND bring it into my classroom in real time cannot be compared with any communication I have done in 20+ years of teaching about space and physics.
People who think that the Semantic Web will exist w/o the human socialization are being narrow minded in their view of the web. They want a web AI or artificial intelligence. An AI is not needed though for a social or “hive mind” which is what twitter communities are really becoming with the addition to all the other tools that these communities are adding to their handyman’s belt. Why not think of the interaction of people and the internet as more of a communal mind that harvests the fruit of human endeavor and thought?
So the next time you ask a question or make a comment on Twitter, think about the stream of consciousness that will proceed over the web as others read, interpret, make connections, comment, answer, and even then go into real person to person conversations and then back to the net. It is that dang butterfly causing hurricanes all over again.