Something to tweet about

OGI takes on the social-media conversation

Perhaps there is no better way to discuss the value and vagaries of using social media in government than to take the conversation to a social-media platform.

Last week’s Open Government and Innovations (OGI) conference in Washington, D.C., provided that opportunity. The event planners at the 1105 Government Information Group (Federal Computer Week’s parent company) established a Twitter feed for the conference, projected the feed on large screens throughout the facility and encouraged attendees to tweet away.

And so they did, capturing sound bites from the presentations, providing links to related resources and offering their own wry observations. The results often read like social media haiku, insightful yet elusive. (Note: All quotes are verbatim, including spelling.)

NoelDickover: RT @jack_holt What we're doing here is evolutionary yet ancient. If you listen to whispers you will not hear screems - Cherokee proverb #OGI

The challenge, of course, is that Twitter, often described as a microblogging service, limits tweets to 140 characters, spaces included. That is not a lot to work with when trying to convey complex thoughts or nuanced discussions. Something has got to give.

bryanwklein: "If you ask people what they think they will tell you and it may not be what you want to hear." There is risk in this process. #ogi #yam

Who said that and in what context? Looking at its place in the feed, we suspect the speaker was Lena Trudeau, program area director for strategic initiatives at NAPA, who was on the plenary panel Wednesday morning. Or was it Robyn Sturm, assistant deputy chief technology officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy?

Trudeau and Sturm were discussing the recent Open Government Dialogue, so we can assume that was the topic at hand. But we cannot be sure based on this fragment. Such is the nature of Twitter.

But all social media platforms have their quirks and their constraints. Speakers warned attendees not to get too taken with the technology but to approach it pragmatically, respecting its limitations.

Pragmatics_Inc: I think I've heard "Don't start with tools, start with goals" in about 3 diff #OGI sessions so far. Important reminder.

Still, the virtues of social media were also on full display at the conference. For much of the event, people had to choose from one of four different sessions to attend. With the Twitter feed running, however, attendees could follow the discussion in other rooms or just review the feed at the end of the day to see what they missed.

Even the speakers got into the act, occasionally pointing out tweets in other sessions that touched on topics of interest to their own.

Perhaps individual tweets can come across as a bit of tease...

csukach: Linton Wells: dispute resolution ala paypal, etc./applying that idea to dispute resolution amongst/with ppl in other countries #ogi-105 about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

...but a string of tweets from a given session, or even across sessions, can add up to something substantial, like pearls on necklace.

rupertmike: RT @debbieweil Measurement: from @KDPaine Measure what matters because 20% of the content (aka data) influences 80% of the decisions #ogi

USMSOffice: #ogi Good question: how do we measure transparency? Feedback mechanisms available, unfavorable comments build trust...

debbieweil: Measurement: from @kdpaine Sometimes not being mentioned at all is an optimum metric (she uses NSA.gov as an example) #ogi

Most impressive of all was the intensity of the tweeting. All the event planners had to do was provide the platform and to say the word “go.” Once it started, the feed rarely slowed down until well after the sessions had ended. And even then the networking continued.

stereogab: In DC? Come to I <3 Transparency Happy Hour 2mrw night at Bread & Brew w @SunFoundation http://bit.ly/nuY1i (expand ) (FB link) #ogi

That is the beauty of social media. People do not need to be sold on the value of networking; that is human nature.

Lynnstin: How do we engage people? - they are already out there talking. Need to go to where they are and building communities.

We don’t know who said that, or why, but it sums up the mood at last week’s conference with admirable precision -- and it does so in 117 characters, spaces included.

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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