Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

10 April 2009


Clark @ 3:58 PM

Last night we held the first #lrnchat, a Twitter learning chat.  As mentioned before, it was an idea from Marcia Conner based upon her previous experience with other chats and enthusiasm for Twitter. It was an interesting experience, with it’s plusses and minuses.  There were great topics, and some interesting technical issues.  The latter first:

I finally ‘graduated’ from TwitterFox (a plugin for Firefox, and a great way to start Twittering) to TweetDeck, an AIR application. It’s more sophisticated, but then it’s another application I’m running in parallel (what with iChat, Adium, and Skype all running, and now TweetDeck, Mail, and Firefox, before I’m working in any apps, I’ve got a lot of RAM and CPU cycles being sucked up.  However, I went to TweetChat, a website that provides an interface just for such chats, because it only follows your hashtag, and automatically puts it in your tweets.  That worked well.

However, what my colleague Sky (Jim Schuyler) noticed was that all those tweets were flooding the twitterverse.  In fact,  he found out about #lrnchat by a sudden flurry of tweets from some people he knew, including me and Marcia Conner (why he hadn’t seen the earlier tweets about it is a curiosity :).  That’s the downside: that all those tweets go out to your followers, who may not know what’s going on.  Harold Jarche also opined that maybe Twitter wasn’t the right tool for chatting.  It’s an interesting issue, but it’s really all about tradeoffs.  For example, Meebo is more dedicated to chat, but there’s more overhead to get hooked up (it connects all IM channels, but you’d have to be on IM).  If you’re on twitter, you saw the message and could participate. However, I admit I felt bad if anyone who watches my tweets felt inundated (let me know; valuable feedback).

I previously found it the situation that if you have new channels, new people can find ways to express themselves.  I think chat has some great affordances, as you don’t have to take turns, there can be parallel conversations going, and it doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth.  You couldn’t do it in video or audio.  There might’ve been times I wanted to draw a picture (as I did in a small TogetherLearn chat with Harold and Jay the other day).  Still, a potentially powerful channel (as I find when serving as a backchannel for a presentation).

Interestingly, the amount of activity on Twitter with #lrnchat suddenly peaking triggered some automatic signification that #lrnchat was a trend, and we got some auto-pings to fill out a definition of what #lrnchat was at What The Hashtag!  Which of course brought in some people looking for ‘action’ and to flog their personal issues.  Even in the discussion, the mention of Yammer brought in the Yammer team mentioning some of their case studies, which got a bit annoying.  The risks of popularity, I guess.

Another issue, besides tool, was whether 2 hours were too much.  While we expect some to have to drop out, or drop in late, is it useful or valuable to go that long, or would shorter be better?

However, I really liked the chat format.  As Marcia reminded us, when it gets fast, there may be too much to follow, but that you should just take the value you found.  There were some sparkling gems in the conversation, and valuable information.  It was very worthwhile.  While it may be only one channel, it certainly seems a valuable one for some (maybe those, like me, who read and/or type fast).

The topics ranged from organizational barriers to Twitter (hence the mention of Yammer as a solution maybe more appropriate for a company with more than a few people, as it has some knowledge management capabilities as well), to the value (or not) of Twitter.   We covered case studies (and the lack thereof), the nature of the necessary culture, the role of informal learning in the organization, and more.  Apparently some were able to view the archive and catch up quickly, so it’s not only a ‘you had to be there’, though I don’t know if it’s easily accessible post-hoc (going back now to both TweetChat and WTHashtag weren’t particularly useful just now).

Overall, I think the notion of having a regularly scheduled chat on learning is very valuable.  What mechanisms are the right ones, is, to me, still an open question.  So there you go: what do you think?


  1. Sorry I couldn’t be there but I just haven’t figured out the twitter/tweetchat/#lrnchat thing. Watched it happen on the computer screen but didn’t get past that. Maybe next time. I’m glad it connected and got some attention.

    Comment by Scottf Johnson — 10 April 2009 @ 5:16 PM

  2. I tried to describe last night’s experience to a friend today. It certainly reminded her that my interests are not average.

    Overall Experience: The speed was an issue (even though you could control it a little). When I wanted to catch the drift of what one person was tweeting, I browsed to Twitter to get their posts. Some friends DM’d me to clarify points. I was never sure if anyone was responding to my comments since there wasn’t time to check.

    Knowledge Value: Above average. It’s really a matter of who’s online and what they are able to contribute based on memory and expertise. That’s what’s novel – you can’t research or make it up at this speed.

    Length: I stayed on for an hour – that was all I could muster. Can only imagine what it was like for those of you who did 2 hours. BTW when I started teaching grad students online, I had 4 guest chats each semester. I got pretty adept at moderating and using text signals for managing the conversation. Grad students are a little more polite at turn taking since there are grades at the end of the semester ;-)

    Thanks for the experience!

    Comment by Loretta Donovan — 10 April 2009 @ 6:16 PM

  3. Amigo, my take was similar to yours in several ways.

    First, the “chat” was useful.

    Second, the chat was too long. After one hour, people started horning in with their own agendas and the signal-to-noise ratio went bad on us. This is because we were (in effect) chatting in a public place on a loudspeaker. I have searches active all the time that would spot a conversation like this if it mentioned my name or company, and I would also join it. By time the chat got to 90 minutes we were being joined by people who had different agendas.

    Third, the “splatter” was noticed by my followers. They only got snatches of the conversations – not the whole thing because they don’t follow everyone who was “chatting” – and they were puzzled.

    Fourth, one person did join us because of the splatter to my followers. That was good. Oh, and speaking of that, I joined the chat because you were splattering it to me!

    Fifth, Marcia was consciously trying to put real content into each of her tweets. Others were not. They were splattering and spamming. She was actually conveying information every time around. I also tried to do the same because I’m sensitive to this.

    My conclusion is that Twitter is not a substitute for a chat room. Round peg in a square hole, my friend. It needs private channels in order to be a chat room. And why use Twitter when we already have lots of chat solutions that are much richer and do not splatter all over our friends?

    Comment by Sky — 10 April 2009 @ 11:40 PM

  4. When trying to explain Twitter to a non-techy, I said it was like a scroll at the bottom of the news channel.

    My understanding is that it is like using headlines. I think chat is something else all together.

    I find it difficult to keep up with multi party chat. I prefer one on one chat (I use google chat).

    Comment by Virginia Yonkers — 11 April 2009 @ 5:24 AM

  5. If you use TweetChat, you can avoid confusing your followers by making each statement a reply to someone in the chat. Since TweetChat automatically adds the appropriate hashtag, everyone in the chat will see your “reply,” whether they follow that person or not, while most of your followers will be spared. You could do the same thing outside TweetChat by replying in the usual way and manually typing the hashtag.

    I participate in a business chat (#sbbuzz) that has a formal structure. It opens with introductions, then the leader posts a question that she has collected from participants before the chat or that they DM her doing the chat. As the conversation about one question sputters out, she posts the next.

    Near the end of the chat, she posts an announcement that it’s okay to pitch your services.

    People stay (mostly) on topic. It’s a 2-hour chat, but it doesn’t seem long because a different business chat ends 1 hour into this one, and some of those participants switch over to “our” chat, which gives it a boost.

    Comment by Cathy Moore — 11 April 2009 @ 6:57 AM

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Cathy, your advice is what Marcia Conner added to the conversation. Though I think your @’s are still in your stream?

    Loretta, I flagged at an hour, then got a second wind, but 2 hours may be a lot.

    Scott, hope you can contribute next time.

    Sky, not sure whether twitter or not?

    Virginia, different channels for different folks, I reckon.

    Comment by Clark — 11 April 2009 @ 12:15 PM

  7. Yes, @ replies you use in the chat end up in your stream, but the only followers who see them are ones who also follow the person you replied to (unless they’ve changed their settings so they see everything you say to anyone). It’s a compromise rather than a perfect solution.

    I think Twitter is a useful chat mechanism only if the chat entries would be of value to people outside the group. I think this fact can help encourage people to contribute thoughtfully.

    Comment by Cathy Moore — 11 April 2009 @ 3:20 PM

  8. Hi Clark,
    Thanks for the summary of the chat. I was dipping and out while packing for the weekend trip. I understand Harold’s concern about being spammy to the followers not interested in the topic, but I also see the utility of spreading the word about what’s taking place. An imperfect option that came to mind was to use friendfeed. The “room” option may be a way for those not wishing to overwhelm followers and the option to send posts to twitter for those that wish to spread the seeds of the conversation.

    Just another option to ponder from an interested “lurker” from the #lrnchat.

    Cheers to all,
    Richard Sheehy

    Comment by Richard Sheehy — 13 April 2009 @ 6:21 AM

  9. To Cathy Moore: You said “Yes, @ replies you use in the chat end up in your stream, but the only followers who see them are ones who also follow the person you replied to (unless they’ve changed their settings so they see everything you say to anyone). It’s a compromise rather than a perfect solution.”

    I was not aware of this, and actually I’m not sure it’s true. I thought that everything I tweeted was seen by -all- of my followers, regardless of their relationship with the people I mention. In fact, I count on it. Otherwise how could I tell my followers something like “Hey tweeps, @quinnovator told me today that the sky is green.” You’re saying that only people who already follow Clark would see my tweet? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    Comment by Sky — 13 April 2009 @ 9:11 PM

  10. Ah, I see now (by reading the Twitter help on this issue). If you start a tweet with @abc then it is treated specially. If you include @abc somewhere else (later in the tweet) it is just passed through. How odd.

    Comment by Sky — 13 April 2009 @ 9:15 PM

  11. Sky, as I think you’ve found, the symbols at the beginning of a tweet determine how public it is.

    “@JoeShmoe I agree…” = a public reply to Joe. People who follow both you and Joe will see it in their stream. People who don’t follow Joe but who go to your profile to see all your tweets will also see your reply to Joe.

    “D JoeShmoe I agree…” = a direct message to Joe. Only Joe will see it.

    If a Tweet starts with anything other than those symbols, all your followers will see it immediately. This includes tweets that have @ symbols anywhere else in them.

    Complication: If your Tweet includes a hash tag (#ourchat), then everyone who searches on that hashtag will see your tweet. For example, they’ll see your @JoeSchmoe reply even if they don’t follow Joe.

    TweetChat works by repeatedly searching for all Tweets that use the same hash tag and displaying them in the “room.” So I can reply to someone in the room that no one there follows and everyone will still see my reply. But my followers who aren’t searching on #ourchat and who don’t follow the person I’ve replied to won’t see my tweet.

    That’s why in a chat I participate by replying to the organizer, because I go to business chats organized by people that my elearning audience doesn’t usually follow.

    Comment by Cathy Moore — 14 April 2009 @ 7:07 AM

  12. From your post: “sudden flurry of tweets from some people he knew, including me and Marcia Conner (why he hadn’t seen the earlier tweets about it is a curiosity :).” LOL, I would guess that the reason I didn’t see Marcia’s tweet is that I can’t read all 500+ tweets a day that come in. And also, I’m human, so I don’t remember everything I see.

    We are all seriously information-overloaded these days!

    Comment by Sky — 15 April 2009 @ 9:03 AM

  13. […] would see everything that I tweet, that I just didn’t believe it when Cathy Moore said (in this conversation on the Learnlets.com blog) “Yes, @ replies you use in the chat end up in your stream, but the only followers who see them […]

    Pingback by Twitter is like shouting at a dinner party - Sky’s Blog — 16 April 2009 @ 1:02 AM

  14. […] would see everything that I tweet, that I just didn’t believe it when Cathy Moore said (in this conversation on the Learnlets.com blog) “Yes, @ replies you use in the chat end up in your stream, but the only followers who see them […]

    Pingback by Twitter is like shouting at a dinner party — 2 January 2017 @ 12:38 PM

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