The use of social networks and blogs during conferences/workshops

Last week I attended the Python in Astronomy workshop in Leiden, Netherlands. If you have been reading this blog or you follow me on twitter, this should not be big news since I was very active on both. Along with my tweets/blog, loads of other colleagues attending the conference also tweeted under the has-tag #pyastro15. There are also two other blogs (Pauline Barmby
and Abigail Stevens) with summaries regarding the workshop. This has been the first time when both, my blog and twitter account have been boosted massively due to the workshop. Thus, I wanted to share here my experience and a few stats from my accounts that may reflect the impact of my activity during the workshop.

This is not the first time I try to share what is going on during a conference with people that cannot attend it, but probably it was the first time that I took it more seriously.  Since the number of participants was quite limited, we were encouraged to try to share as much as possible what it was happening at the workshop while it was happening. This was great fun and a really efficient way of involving people not in the conference. At the same time, a lot of people in the workshop were also tweeting which kicked off several conversations/discussions online during talks and more importantly after talks during lunch breaks or as unconference sessions in the afternoon.

There are a few examples that can show the impact of tweeting during a conference/workshop, but probably the best one would be the big discussion created from one of Pauline’s tweets. The question/comment was: is software a primary product of science? Loads of people (not in the workshop) engaged on twitter in a long discussion with people in favour and against this idea. I don’t really want to go now into giving my view on this topic (may be in a future post), but as an example of  the impact of that the discussion reached, it even moved from twitter to a blog post by C. Titus Brown where the discussion continued in the comments field.

This is just one example, but not the only one. There were loads of questions/comments directed to people in the workshop. For example, someone pointed out the existence of a software package similar to one presented in the workshop. This led to a quick comparison of both with the result of one (the one presented at the workshop) being 45 times faster than the other code. With this, we all learned two things, 1.- that another software existed and 2.- we gave potential user a useful comparison of both.

My personal view of using twitter was very positive and I will recommend/encourage it for any conference/workshop. It is true that we had the issue of using sometimes jargon only common for those at the workshop. Once people pointed this out to us we tried to be more communicative by explaining less common terms. Lesson learned. But besides this problem, I think twitter not only helped people around the world to feel closer to us, but it also helped us see what things were happening simultaneously at different parallel sessions. And it helped us sharing documents faster and effortlessly. In summary, it made us more communicative with people that for one reason or another weren’t there with us.

In terms of numbers, I saw my twitter account getting much more hits than usually. With twitter analytics it is not possible to see from where these new hits come from, but the numbers were so large that they couldn’t be created just by people in the workshop.

My blog also shows similar statistics, with the advantage of knowing the country of origin. A large portion of views came from the Netherlands (20% of the total), but the country from which most of the views came from was USA (33%). In total, I got views from 21 countries around the world. In my opinion, these results reflect the interest that the workshop had in many countries and the importance that sharing our daily life at the workshop with other astronomers/astrophysicists really had.

As an addition to these numbers, I can also see how many times a link has been clicked. This is quite useful since during the workshop I shared many links to packages mentioned. It is an approximated way of knowing how much interest a package has had. In total, links to these packages were clicked 115 times. Considering that at the workshop we all had access to most of these links and that we also tweeted them, I suspect that most (definitively some) of these clicks come from people not present at the workshop. And thus, people really interested on what it was being presented and potential new users of those packages.

Thus, my final conclusion after all these is, that being actively online with all my workshop colleagues had a really positive impact on the workshop and on every aspect of it, specially spreading the word about software packages that maybe would not have been discovered otherwise.

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