Monday, August 10, 2009

Twitter and Genealogy Conferences

There is a lively discussion going on in the genealogy blogging community concerning Twitter and genealogy conferences. The main issue is this:

Does tweeting the proceedings of a presentation constitute a copyright violation of the presenter's materials or could it be considered permissible by the Fair Use doctrine?

The issue was first brought to my attention by Elizabeth O'Neal of the Little Bytes of Life blog who, like me, had attended the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree in Burbank this past June where Twitter was used quite a bit during the Blogger Summit as well as other presentations.

Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings blog and Janet Hovorka of The Chart Chick blog have both weighed in and I imagine that many more genealogy bloggers who attend conferences will also post about this. For that reason, GeneaBloggers has created a blog post summary at its site - this will probably be the hot topic for the week and as Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog stated on Twitter this morning, will place Twitter under the microscope at the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Little Rock, Arkansas next month.

For what it matters and being someone who lectures on social media and genealogy, here are my thoughts:
  • Personally I don't follow any "play-by-play" tweets on Twitter whether they are about a football game (which I think is silly if I could watch it myself on television) or about a genealogy conference. I find such entries are distracting and tend to litter my Tweetdeck screen.
  • True confession: when someone tweets a presention I use TwitterSnooze and force them into a Twitter nap. If I need to, I can use Twitter search to look at the individual tweets later in the day.
  • I would much rather see a blog post by the person using Twitter during the presentation. As Janet Hovorka mentioned during one of her recent presentations, the wifi went out and not all the points were covered. AncestryInsider did clarify some points in a summary blog post after the presentation.
  • I think there are more pluses than minuses for everyone (the presenter, the genealogical conference, the person using Twitter, and those following the tweets) in using Twitter during presentations. I think that a "best practices" can be developed in terms of such Twitter use which does not stray into the area of being too overly structured or heavy handed. To me, Twitter is all about freedom of speech and I'd hate to see too many "thou shalt nots" bantered about in the genealogy community.
  • I use Twitter as marketing tool not only for Destination: Austin Family but for GeneaBloggers as well. If they haven't already hopped on board the Twitter train, presenters should learn how to use Twitter to their advantage to market themselves and their presentations.
  • As a presenter I would actually not want to see tweets which were verbatim statements from my handouts. While I know it may fall under the Fair Use doctrine (less than three lines of text), if the presenter requests that presentation materials not be tweeted, that should be respected. I'd rather see a summary tweet or true "reporting" in the form of that person's impressions.
  • I predict that when you attend upcoming presentations - be they stand-alone or at genealogical conferences - you will see a statement about tweeting the presentation either made verbally by the presenter or printed in the materials.
  • Some presenters will actively encourage the use of Twitter during their presentations as part of marketing themselves, their presentation and their areas of expertise.
  • Some presenters will request that those who tweet also follow-up with a "report" on their individual blog in case the landscape that is Twitter does not sufficiently communicate the salient points within a 140 character limit. I think this is only fair and not an unreasonable request.
What I appreciate most about this entire issue is that genealogy bloggers are willing to discuss it (within blog posts and on Twitter) and report about it on their sites. This is the power of our community - we can have an exchange of ideas which will impact the greater genealogy community.

As Amy Coffin so deftly mentioned on Twitter, "I sense fear by those who have opinions on Twitter but don't use it or understand the many ways it can be used." Twitter, like other social media tools such as Facebook, are not going away and while many in the genealogy community may not want to embrace them, they at least need to recognize and acknowledge the impact - positive and negative - that they will have on our community.

I look forward to picking up these same discussions when we all meet in person at the next genealogy conference!

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee


Amy Coffin said...

Excellent post, Thomas.

I plan on Tweeting my way through FGS, just like I did for NGS. And yes, I will be tweeting during during presentations. Hopefully I can show some of the different ways Twitter is used during a conference.

If a presenter issues a "no Twitter" rule, I will honor that. However,
I will also express my displeasure in my blog and reconsider attending future
presentations by that person. One's credibility as an expert researcher is shot--in my eyes--when that person shows he/she is not current on emerging technological tools and their relationship to
research. Also, I find it a tad insulting and highly amusing that the presenter assumes I'm not capable of respectful, intelligent information sharing before
I even walk through the door.

Thank you, Thomas, for bringing this issue to the forefront. Your points well made, and I hope they bring understanding of Twitter to a wider audience.

(And thanks for reminding me about TwitterSnooze, too!)

Amy Coffin said...

I should clarify my last comment. In an attempt to shorten a length comment, I erased a paragraph. That in turn makes the remaining portion of the comment look harsh. That wasn't my intent.

When I blog from a conference, I usually sum up the whole day in a post. Each presentation gets a couple lines. Each speaker gets a little love.

If I attend a "no Twitter" presentation, I will respectfully honor that. However, that fact will be part of my blog's conference summary. This should in no way be perceived as a threatening--as it may have looked in the above post with the missing paragraph that would have explained that more clearly. I will just say something along the lines of "that's too bad." I will merely be blogging my disappointment.

I don't want presenters to read any anger in my comment. That wasn't the intention at all. Apologies if anyone was rattled and I hope this clarification explains the tone better.

Janet Hovorka said...

I will be in Maui at my sister's wedding during FGS. I'll be looking forward to your tweets Amy. ;-)

And, I don't know if you meant it that way, but I too would wonder about a lecturer who does not want reporting/opinions expressed about their lecture. And I would have much more respect for a lecturer who was confident enough to be able to be open to a discussion via social media.

Thanks Thomas. Wonderful as usual.

Drew Smith said...

Sorry for being a few days late to this exchange, but I only just saw Randy's summary of the best recent blog posts, and y'all already know that I have some thoughts about Twitter and presentations. (I couldn't decide at first whether I should post here or on Janet's blog, but I figured those interested will see it in either place.)

First, I hope Thomas won't mind too much if I disagree with one thing he said. At one point he said "While I know it may fall under the Fair Use doctrine (less than three lines of text)...".

But there is no such rule within the Fair Use doctrine. As attorney Stephen Fishman said in his latest edition of The Copyright Handbook: "...contrary to what many people believe, there is no absolute word limit for fair use. For example, it is not always okay to take one paragraph or less than 200 words. Copying 12 words from a 14-word haiku poem wouldn’t be
fair use. Nor would copying 200 words from a work of 300 words likely qualify as a fair use. However, copying 2,000 words
from a work of 500,000 words might be fair. It all depends
on the circumstances...".

Drew Smith said...

I don't think that a stated "no Twitter" rule would be intended to prevent reporting or opinions. Instead, the presenter might just be trying to prevent copyright infringement (whether intended or not).

And I agree with Janet's comments on her own blog that it can be beneficial (if not downright flattering) to be tweeted while lecturing, and that it's not really worthwhile worrying about an error in reporting.

Having said all that, I think that I would like to see a "Responsible Tweeting" guideline be the default for all repeated presentations. I say "repeated" because of my own experience at the recent ALA conference, which I discussed on the APG list. Not only was the LITA Top Technology Trends panel discussion not the kind of thing where the presenters would give the same presentation at every conference, but the presentation was even *encouraged* to be tweeted. There was a slide displayed throughout with the session hashtags.

(Sigh: Yes, I said "hashtags", not "hashtag". I have no idea why two different tags were used, but it made tweeting more cumbersome. Suggestion for all presentation organizers. Choose a single tag, and stick with it.)

So, my comments are about tweeting presentations that will be repeated at later conferences in essentially the same form. I would assume that the tweeter is not copying any significant (beyond fair use) amount of text from handouts (why bother doing that live, given that they can re-read those later?).

I don't see any problem where Twitter is used in a review-mode or to share a few highlighted points. Certainly, that can encourage future business for the presenter (assuming the presenter does a good job).

The only objection I can see is where the tweeting goes into so much detail that it essentially reproduces the entire content. I truly realize that this is always going to be a judgment call. As with the Fair Use doctrine, there isn't going to be any hard-and-fast rule about when it becomes too much.

I think this is where the tweeter has to engage in a best practice and ask "Am I reviewing/reporting, or just reproducing/parroting?". And I'm betting that this will come with time and experience. The technology is still too new to pin down exactly what the best practices are.