Back in 2012 some Australian historians were following the annual conference of the American Historical Association on Twitter. We did the Australian thing and stayed up late to follow a live event in another country and immersed ourselves in the torrent of tweets from conference participants reporting the events via the #AHA2012 hashtag. I have written about this, my first experience following a conference via Twitter in my post, ‘Nearly There: Experiencing a Conference Online’.
What a wonderful service those tweeps had provided to all those who could not attend the conference. We were inspired:
@perkinsy 13/1/2012 4:52.56:
#AHA2012 was an online success. Can we share @AustHistAssoc conference in the same way? @davegearl @wragge http://t.co/Xjk2q8yM #AHA2012
The tweets have long disappeared from Twitter itself but through my Twitter Archive I found the response from British historian, Sharon Howard, which gave life to the idea (I added bold to the key text):
@perkinsy 13/1/2012 20:38.28:
I like it – succint. @AustHistAssoc @davegearl RT @sharon_howard: @perkinsy @wragge I propose the hashtag #OzHA12 🙂
So the #OzHA hashtag was born… and to my chagrin my spelling error is immortalised.
#OzHA was first used for the Australian Historical Association conference held in Adelaide that year. Sharon Howard again pitched in and archived the conference tweets. Thanks to her we can look back and see that there were 1,112 tweets sent using the #OzHA2012 hashtag. Not bad considering that the #AHA2012 archive has 4,900 tweets. Of course both these archives include tweets sent before and after the conference, but the majority will be tweets sent during the conference.
For a variety of reasons the 2013 and 2014 Australian conferences did not have such active Twitter streams. This year the organisers ensured that all conference attendees knew the conference hashtag and how to log onto the venue’s WiFi network. This made a big difference.
On the morning of the third day of this year’s conference we had exceeded the total number of conference tweets recorded in 2012. Over the entire four days of conference sessions 2,625 tweets were sent.
The number of people tweeting is also an important measure of the effectiveness of a conference Twitter stream. At times there were eleven parallel sessions so a lot of tweeps are required to represent the conference fully. Thirty six people contributed ten or more tweets during the conference. I went back to the 2013 data (the only other conference for which I have all the data) and found that only fifteen tweeps had sent ten or more tweets during that conference.
On the face of it, more people sending more tweets means that the reporting of the 2015 Australian Historical Association conference on Twitter was the best we have ever had. It means that those who cannot attend the conference could get a better sense of the conference proceedings. A good conference Twitter stream means that after the conference we can refer back to the crowd’s conference notes to jog our memories or to check out that link that was shared but we didn’t have time to check out during the conference.
However, one thing has not changed much from the 2013 conference. In that year I reported that eleven people at that conference contributed 78% of the conference tweets. This year the conference’s eleven most prolific tweeps contributed 76% of the conference tweets. Thus the view of a small number of conference participants would have dominated the perceptions of those following the conference from afar. People following online would have mostly heard about the sessions attended by just eleven people. Many sessions would have had just cursory or no coverage.
There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the ability to type fast. Some people have a reflective mode when actively thinking during presentations that precludes doing other activities such as typing. Some people may use Twitter at other times but don’t realise its value for note taking and contributing to an online community interested in the conference. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the 422 attendees at the Conference are not on Twitter (attendance figure provided by Conference organisers via email).
I had a look at the Australian Historical Association conference Facebook page but it didn’t seem to be used much during the conference. I don’t know if there was much discussion about the conference on other social media channels.
A conference is a great place for tweeps to meet each other in real life (IRL). A few of us got together in one break – hence the photo above. I loved being able to finally meet West Australian historian Jo Hawkins. We have been in touch on Twitter for a few years but never met before.
As a conference attendee I found the #OzHA2015 tweets useful for reminding me about what happened and helping me keep abreast of sessions I missed out on.
Were you following the conference on Twitter? Write a comment and share your thoughts about #OzHA2015.
These posts rely on the Conference Twitter archives maintained by historian, Sharon Howard at The Broadside. In the next post I will look at the topics covered in the Conference Twitter stream.