A brilliant and rather ordinary moment came to my attention this week. Both brief and mundane, it provides a cute example of the kind of lateral thinking and connective action that occurs as a result of networked existence. The type of daily minor event that can prompt you to imagine, get excited, try something out and share in a matter of minutes.
From Star Trek to real life astronauts
During a rather self-indulgent evening watching Start Trek (I feel oddly compelled to mention that I haven’t been so well this week – I’ve had the snivels tweet01 tweet02 tweet03 tweet04). Mid episode of What are little girls made of, an inspired acorn of thought sprung to mind. Wouldn’t it be awesome if real-life astronauts were tweeting. I could follow them and get real-time updates on real-world space missions – wowser, that would be brilliant!
So I immediately paused the show to conduct a few quick searches…
…Now although none of these particular queries resulted in my finding a ‘real-life astronaut,’ (even my search for ‘astronauts on twitter,’ offered results for NASA feeds), what I did find was a good start. Decent enough for the time-being.
As a result of my compulsive imagination and action, I am now the privileged receiver of a number of NASA tweets. Alerts that provide me with glorious insights of space age shenanigans:
Tweet01 – ‘More than four centuries after the brilliant star explosion witnessed by Tycho Brahe and other astronomers o…http://tinyurl.com/5thgkx’
Tweet02 – ‘With a diameter of about 170,000 light years, galaxy Messier 101 (M101) is nearly twice the size of our Milk.. http://tinyurl.com/56237x‘
Tweet03 – ‘Students will participate in a live in-flight education downlink on Dec. 9, with the astronauts on the Space.. http://tinyurl.com/5jfdzh‘
As you can tell by the somewhat abrupt ‘cut off,’ point, these tweets are automatic, produced via updates to NASA’s website. Their purpose therefore is simple, to provide real-time alerts (with minimum effort) about NASA’s universe pushing astronomical projects and space missions and drive traffic to the website. With a brisk click through, you can read more about a particular event that caught your eye and see some awesome ‘real science,’ like this.
What was particularly interesting about this experience for me, was that almost as soon as I’d clicked ‘follow @NASA,’ I became instantly annoyed. Annoyed that the same search on the UK’s equivalent organisation, the BNSC (British National Space Centre) failed to offer a similar level of service. I thought if NASA is doing it, why isn’t the BNSC? The benefits are obvious:
- Auto micro-blogging provides an easy, quick and inexpensive way for public organisations to improve ‘real-time’ access to their work. In NASA’s example, it enables them to spread the word about fascinating science work, discoveries and research innovations with public value.
- A publicly positive action, micro-feeds can yield significant interested and connected audiences (NASA for example is followed by 4401 people). These audiences more than likely include people that organisations like NASA and the BNSC would otherwise not be in touch with, or be able to engage by any other means.
- Establishing a presence in micro-blogging spaces (like twitter) enables otherwise often hidden and impenetrable organisations to engage audiences in new ways. As the examples above illustrate, this can include making the people and history tied to an organisation more visible, offering quick and fun ‘crowd pleasing,’ facts (invaluable for dinner parties and playgrounds) and promoting public events to a captive audience – in this case an ‘in-fight down link’ for students….and the benefits go on…
So, through a simple action of finding and following NASA (in this case on twitter), I immediately wanted the UK’s equivalent organisation to do better. I wanted the BNSC to help me follow my interest more closely and enable me to become a more informed UK citizen. And I wanted them to do this by engaging with ‘the micro-blog network.’ I’d be interested to hear from anyone that’s experienced similar of late.
The future is multi-channel
For me at least, it seems that having a website no longer ‘cuts it,’ in terms of public engagement and/or enabling access to information. Interestingly (and again in my case), neither is just offering an email alert or RSS feed. And the reason being is this.
Over the last couple of years I’ve both consciously and sub-consciously compartmentalised my online information life. For me, offering information updates via email and RSS is great, but doesn’t always fit with how I choose to keep informed. Particularly with my hobbyist interests. I feel happy for example, subscribing to email alerts to receive ‘What’s On’ information i.e. event listings (in fact I prefer it), and I check in with my RSS on a daily basis to catch up with news related to my profession and avid interest in all things ‘art-tech.’ But for this particular ‘information type,’ (what I call hobbyist) these lines of communication no longer meet my ‘data habits,’ or ‘info-needs.’ It doesn’t make sense for me to engage with hobbiest information via these channels because the pipes are ‘already full.’ It would confuse ‘the system.’ [Do I sound like a bot…?! ]
Twitter on the other hand is perfect for this kind of hobbiest information. Very much a social and information news feed, I run Twhirl on my desk top to keep up to date with my network and dive into recommendations and news throughout the day and catch up with a lot of my news when I’m on the move. I’ve also started to favourite recommendations to catch up with together later, when I have the time.
In the spirit of doing my bit, when I get a spare moment over xmas I think I might drop the BNSC a little note of encouragement for the new year. A ping that urges them to follow NASAs lead, embrace the network and get micro-blogging! I’ll let you know how it goes.
– claire welsby –
A few examples of NASA on twitter (there are many more): @NASA | @NASACoLab | @MarsPheonix | @LRO_NASA | @SSDiscovery | @NASA_SDO_HM