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Text and Context

Chris Campbell

It started a year ago with the lead up to Podcamp 2014 and Battledecks. There was some playful boasting and jabs leading up to the competition. Battledecks is an improvisational presentation based on a topic and slide deck that is randomly chosen. I hadn't seen a competition before and it sounded fun, so I signed up and started interacting with the participants on Twitter. One of the participants was @KVTknits who is Katherine Victoria Taylor. At lunch at Alderney Landing just before the Battledecks competition I met her and was a bit nervous as she was funny and an experienced improviser.

In the competition I was lucky and went last which resulted in an audience warmed up by the other competitors. I got a high five from Katherine as I left the stage and felt good improvising to a receptive audience. It worked to my advantage and from the applause at the end it turned out I won. Afterwards I chatted with Katherine about comedy and improv and later followed her on Twitter (which I forgot to do earlier). Through tweets I saw other things she did that were part of her Twitter bio which reads, "Disabled bookbinder letterpress printer and improviser My mum has 9 cats but I only have 1".

In March of 2014 she organized a conference for youth leaders in the chronic illness community and she asked if I could conduct a workshop and I did a session on storytelling. The conference was inspiring, fun, and went well. It was neat to see a diverse group of people and connect with a community that I hadn't known much about before. The Twitter interactions continued throughout the year and as the initial rumblings about Podcamp 2015 started I thought that it would be good to do another session.

Michelle Doucette takes a picture of Tracey Boyer and Carman Pirie introducing Podcamp 2015.

Podcamp is a great event organized by committed volunteers that started in 2009 at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth in 2009. It's a great gathering of the tech community of Halifax to talk about social media and technology. At the first one I did a session based on a blog post constructed out of 140 character or less paragraphs (a seven tweet blog post) called small, specific, and real. I didn't make it to the 2010 event and in 2011 did a session about Twitter and coffee and oatmeal. In 2012 it was a session about creating a tumblelog, and in 2013 it was about Quantifying Yourself.

After four sessions solo it was time to do things a bit differently and I teamed up with my friend Kendra to do a session about managing who you follow on Twitter and Pruning Your Twitter Garden was a lot of fun and was energizing too. It's great to collaborate and work with other people to present and share things that they care about. For this year I thought it would be neat to think of something to do with Katherine and we started to brainstorm.

Collaboration is the key to filmmaking and many other things. It's a great way to work as you share who you are, your skills and add them with what other people bring. Then you do something that hopefully is interesting and starts a conversation or more collaboration. Social media does this well. We shared ideas, ate burgers, laughed, and a description and title emerged – "Text and Context." It was specific enough for a general idea and vague enough to allow for flexibility as Podcamp approached.

Katherine Printing in the Dawson Printshop

The Dawson Printshop is a wonderful part of NSCAD University that focusses on letterpress printing and bookbinding and they are the home of the Letterpress Gang, with Joe Landry as the leader of the gang. Katherine tweets about Joe often and it was so nice to go to a gathering of the gang on a Monday night in December to see the magic of printing with movable type. The workshop for Podcamp took a more tangible form with ideas for talking about words and Twitter and printing and books. Maybe we could even print some tweets that inspired us and bring a small parlour press for a demo?

The next planning meeting happened at Joe's house when Katherine invited me over. On a chilly day I warmed up and sat on Joe's couch as Joe and Katherine shared some of the rare books that Joe has collected over the years. We were handling them with our bare hands and it was kind of amazing. There was a book by Aldus Manutius which is five centuries old. A nifty almanac with a pencil in it and an amazing tiny book that is one of the Gnostic Gospels which would make it about two millennia old. Joe was allowing Katherine to share some of these valuable books from his collection with the session participants.

The final prep for Podcamp was a fun time for me in the Dawson Printshop with Katherine and Joe. Katherine set a tweet from her and a tweet from me and she was going to print cards up to give out to the participants. Printing is a skill requiring patience and attention to detail. It is great to see a craft practiced by those who care about it. After the type was set I was able to turn the crank a bit and print some of the cards too. Seeing the words on the page as the ink dried changes the context and the meaning. There is a sense of permanence in moving from pixels to paper.

Whether it is a tweet or a book or a letter, they are containers for stories that we share. Those stories reveal things about ourselves and connect us to each other. Words are strange and amazing things. Tiny marks on paper or a screen, we translate those marks with our brains and they can go right to our hearts. The small interactions that happen every day on Twitter can inspire and help us, give us a little boost when we are down and give us opportunities to help each other get through hard times.

Cards and beautiful, old books.

At the heart of any good workshop or session or story is something we care about and that is what we share. So for me and Katherine it seemed to be that the workshop would make the connection between words and the way that we share them and connect to each other. In our prep we thought about the ways social media are good. It can organize people and get them out to make a difference.

On August 14, 2014 Allison Sparling, Evey Hornbeck, and Katherine organized a positive response to a group of anti-choice activists who were holding up signs and protesting around the city. The campaign used the theme of "Pro Love" with the hashtag #prolove and used signs with positive messages and images of hearts. It got some great media coverage and more importantly got all sorts of people out and created a positive tone around the idea of women having choices about their own bodies. The signs were colourful and there was a burst of happy tweets and smiling faces around the whole event. This is the power of social media, words, and print in the world. It's inspiring and wonderful.

All the elements of the workshop were there with printed cards and a parlour press to print more cards on the day, we had a structure to improvise within. One of the fun things was that we had books, paper, markers, ink, and a press. No slide decks or more modern technology which was kind of liberating. Scheduled in the first slot of the morning, Katherine and Kristen (known as her bf on Twitter if you have been following there) brought the press and books in and set them up. The small room filled up after Podcamp kicked off and we had a great time talking about meeting on Twitter (and according to ThinkUp, Katherine is my "Twitter bestie" for 2014) and how amazing books and printing are. It was a lot of fun and I am so glad I had the chance to share in the experience.

Chris Campbell and Katherine Victoria Taylor

8 Years of Twitter

Chris Campbell

Thanks to the wonderful analytical service ThinkUp, this morning I realized that I joined Twitter as @bitdepth and started sharing little updates 8 years ago today. It's a long time in Internet years and Twitter has become the main thing that I do online. The blog here has been around longer, but I don't blog every day, but tweeting is something that happens at least once a day. Using the service has become part of my life and it's how I find out what is happening with news and with many friends. While Facebook is still around and is the main source of news and networking for many, I've honed and tuned my Twitter stream to the point where it is all mine and I love it.

In the old days I had only met one or two people that I followed in real life. The world of Twitter for me was virtual and I hadn't thought that I'd ever meet many people who were on the service. One of the early rules I had was to not follow more than 99 people. The only way that to follow someone new was to unfollow someone. But things have changed now and I follow a lot more people and there are many people that I follow that I know in real life. Friends even.

The most amazing thing is how seamless and invisible the whole thing has become. It's one of the first things I do in the morning and the pulse is there all day while checking in to find out what is happening in the world and with the people I follow. They're my friends and there is no need to qualify whether they are "real" or "virtual" any more than someone who you talk with on the phone is at a varying level of reality. Twitter is a medium, a way to connect with people, and I love it.

The early days were cell phone-based and the phones were simpler and it was more expensive. At first the only way to start using Twitter was with a cell phone. You would sign up through SMS. Twitter was mainly mobile. Then the web site allowed you to do more and the first clients came out and in January of 2007, Twitterrific came out for the Mac and that became how I used Twitter and stayed with the Iconfactory's client ever since. Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory even coined the word "tweet" for the updates on Twitter. When I finally got an iPhone (a 4 was the first model that I had), the iPhone Twitterrific client became my choice for most of what I tweet.

Every morning I send out a tweet usually about the oatmeal that I so often have. When I watch films I let people know what I am watching. There are also small messages between people who are having good days, bad days, or just having fun. Connecting and sharing is what is the strength of social networks and the friends that we have. I'm so glad that there is a way that makes it easier and has allowed me to expand the circle of my friends and to stay connected with them.

My Twitter Garden

Chris Campbell

Podcamp Halifax is a great event (an unconference) that happens every year in Halifax that is built around social media. It's a day for members of the community to assemble and share their knowledge. Over the past few years I've presented a bunch of sessions and usually get things organized by writing a draft blog post and then fine-tuning the presentation. My friend Kendra (@halifaxfilmgal) is a Twitter power user and I though that it would be great to do something with her and that's how Pruning Your Twitter Garden came about. It was a lot of fun to do and you can look at a slightly-annotated version of the slides we used.

Kendra and I actually met through a combination of real-life and Twitter. I was explaining Twitter to my friend Rachel in a cafe and Kendra was sitting at the next table. After I finished the explanation she complimented me on it and asked what my Twitter name was. We started following each other and have been friends and film-going pals since then. The Podcamp presentation was a great way to come full-circle and to share some of the insights that we've gained over the years.

How can you keep track of everything that zips by on Twitter? In some ways you really can't, but by looking carefully at who you follow and how you organize things it can help keep track of what is going on in the world. For the first few years of Twitter (I started in October of 2006) the rule that I developed was to not follow more than 99 people. That worked well as it meant that everyone who was there meant something to me. They were also mostly virtual as there were even fewer people there who I had met in person.

As Twitter grew in popularity it also meant that there were a lot more local people there and I started to follow them and the 99 grew into the triple digits. So the numerical barrier was replaced with a looser rule and in my mind I thought about having all of the followers in a room or a theatre. If they could fit into a reasonably intimate venue, that would be ok. Now there are over 400 people that I follow, so that is a good size room (and about the capacity of Podcamp Halifax).

The fundamental rules are mostly the same. They should be real people and not bots. They should post words and not a stream of links, and there should be some sort of engagement. That keeps it manageable and I still have a pretty good idea with every tweet of who wrote it and why I am following them. The garden is planted and I let it grow, not pruning very frequently and usually agonizing over whether to unfollow someone or not.

Keeping track of stats and the number of people following isn't that interesting to me, so I don't use a lot of analytics stuff, but there is a new service that just launched that I am really liking. It's called ThinkUp and it goes through Twitter (and Facebook if you add it) to figure out how you are interacting with people. Instead of a pile of raw numbers, it provides more humane and personal advice about what tweets received the most interaction and when the best time to say something important based on when people interact with you the most. It's a paid service (about $50 a year) and it seems like something that will be useful for me and you can get a glimpse of my ThinkUp page to see the kind of information it provides.

But what do you do when you have a bit more of an organizational system in place? That's where lists come in. The great thing about a list is that you don't need to follow someone to have them on a list. So if there are certain topics or certain people you want to check in on every now and then without them filling up your timeline, a list is the perfect way to organize them.

In the same way that Twitter really becomes a different thing for everyone depending on who they are following, the way that you interact with Twitter can be a much different experience depending on the client that you use. My core Twitter client is Iconfactory's wonderful Twitterrific on my iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro. It syncs my position in the timeline through iCloud or Tweet Marker and allows me to search, save searches, and filter what I see based on replies, direct messages, or favourites. There are also easy ways to share tweets and links through various other services such as Instapaper and Pinboard as well as email and text.

The other very useful feature with Twitterrific is the ability to search for words or hashtags and then save that search. It's a great way to follow what is happening and be able to quickly find out what is current with that topic or hashtag. You can also turn on notifications which will give you a configurable notice about something (like a new follower, a reply, a retweet, or a favourite) whenever it happens. There is also a Today view that gives you a quick summary of the new followers, favourites, and retweets for the day.

In the latest update to Twitterrific for iOS they added list creation and management features. That means you can now click on the avatar for someone and then manage them in lists. So you can quickly add someone to a list and be able to keep track of them without needing to follow them. You can also create new lists, make the public or private, or delete them.

The ephemeral nature is what works really well with Twitter as you don't feel as if you have to read every tweet. But sometimes you do want to be able to go back and don't want to download your whole archive to be able to do that. Luckily there are some services that will save it all for you. There are two that I use and love: Pinboard, and Tweet Library.

Pinboard is Maciej Cegłowski's minimalist, powerful bookmarking service that lets you save links and tag them to find things later. It's a paid service (just over $10 to sign up) and if you want to have an archive of the sites that you bookmark, for $25 a year you can add that service which is great for when sites change dramatically or disappear. But the more relevant feature for Twitter archiving is that you can set up Pinboard so all of your public tweets (as well as links in those tweets) are archived. That provides a great way to save what you said in an easily searchable way over time. That only works going forward after you set it up though, so for tweets that are older, you need to rely on your Twitter archive for that. On your settings page on the Twitter web site you can request your Twitter archive to get a collection of all of your tweets from the beginning in a neat, offline, collection.

If you want something dedicated more directly to preserving your tweets you can use Manton Reece's iOS app Tweet Library (which has an online equivalent named Watermark). I use Tweet Library on my iPad it provides a permanent archive of all of your tweets. When you start out you can import your Twitter archive and then it will download all of the newer tweets that you make. Then you have your whole archive, searchable and organizable all in one place.

The very neat part of Tweet Library is how you can organize your tweets and then share them on the Tweet Library site or via Storify. It's great for preserving discussions and sharing them. Creating a collection lets you select tweets, group them, and then share them online to a companion web site. If you don't want to use the iOS app you can subscribe to the Watermark service ($4 a month for a year of tweets or $10 a month for unlimited) which permanently stores all of your own tweets, and with the two levels allows you to create and share collections of tweets from anyone.

An alternative way to create a customized timeline that you can share is through Twitter's Tweetdeck application (or web version). Using Tweetdeck you can add individual tweets or filter them based on users, search terms, content, or hashtags. Then that customized timeline (which can also be updating itself in real-time) can be shared as a page or embedded on another page. It's a great way to set up a timeline for keeping track of events or discussions as they occur and it does look as though it will be the recommended way to share and embed customized content from Twitter.

Twitter is something that is public and personal. A configurable semi-public space where you can share and interact in ways that work for you. I love being there and the connections that it allows me to have with people from around the world and in my neighbourhood. It's a a lovely garden to spend time in.

Twitterrific 5

Chris Campbell

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My iPhone is a slab of glass and metal that can be a bit magical. A new app can change your perception of the whole device. The same thing can happen with services and websites too. It's a challenge for me to separate Twitter from Iconfactory's Twitterrific app. I started using Twitter early (back in 2006) and initially I used it with my pre-iPhone and on the web. But it was in January of 2007 that Iconfactory launched Twitterrific and that changed the way that I used and saw Twitter. The colour scheme and look are burned into my brain, so that's how I think about the different types of tweets. My tweets are green, replies are brown and direct messages are blue. I got into the iPhone game late (the iPhone 4 is my first iPhone), so I was able to dive right in with Twitterrific there and I loved it too.

With the right app it changes the whole experience. Above having a smoothly-functioning app, the Iconfactory create things that look great. With Twitter the actual content is relatively simple as it is text, so if you can display the text well, it's good. Combine that with additional functionality in terms of posting and viewing other content and it makes it all quite seamless and wonderful. Within Twitterrific they’ve innovated with features that have become standard and many associate Ollie, the icon for Twitterrific, with Twitter itself.

While others moved to more complex apps with multiple columns and accounts and looks, I stuck with Twitterrific on the desktop and my phone. This is software with an opinion about how it should look and work. I agreed with that opinion and I'm so glad that I've stayed with them. They have a point of view, but they listen and evolve and it's fascinating to see how it has changed over the years. Every major update had a few changes. It was all recognizable, but there was a bit of an adjustment period in getting used to some of the refinements.

The app keeps up-to-date with innovations in the operating systems without being too bleeding edge. The vast majority of my tweets have been created through it and I expect that it will continue. The sad spectre lurking over app developers for Twitter is that there is a finite limit to the number of people who can use their apps. It's complicated and most people who use Twitter won't know or really care about it. But it's sad for me as it means that things are moving towards a single web-based interface. I'm hoping that the space and tools enjoyed by more advanced users will remain for a long time.

My other fear was that with the changes that there wouldn't be another update to Twitterrific, but today there is a quite wonderful update for the iPhone and iPad. With version 5 there are no longer two separate versions, but just one. The interface is cleaner with new gestures. Swipe right to reply to a tweet, swipe left to see the conversation. That's nice and fast. It fills the screen more and overall is easier to use. I'm still trying to figure out the best combination of theme and font size, but right out of the box (app store?) it's solid and easy to use. There are three buttons at the top of the screen for the unified timeline, replies and direct messages. This makes it clearer what is going on and there are subtle and beautiful light indicators at the bottom of the buttons to let you know when there are new replies or DMs. You can pull to refresh and there is a delightful animation where you have to pull down and break an egg so a bird emerges and starts to fly.

One neat addition is adding locations to tweets (which had come and gone in various iterations) and continued easy ways to add photos to tweets. I haven't really used location that much with Twitter, but I think I will now. It's funny how having things added in a certain way can change your perception of them. I'm sure that there are other features that I haven't seen or explored yet that will be useful. Search has been improved which will make it easier to add other people and the usual solid sharing functionality is still there. It's a neat improvement to an old friend. Ollie, the Twitterrific mascot also looks a bit different too. He keeps getting bigger in the icon. He's the thing I associate most with Twitter and I'm so glad that he's still around and helping me connect with the world in short bursts.