The Twitter Conference – an emerging medium in modern knowledge exchange?
Sharing knowledge has long been a cornerstone to advancing scientific fields. Traditionally, knowledge exchange has been achieved through peer reviewed publications and academic conferences. However, conferences are fast becoming the new method for sharing valuable information. Conferences are formal gatherings of people with a shared interest and these individuals are generally experts in their field. This provides an excellent learning opportunity for those who attend, as platforms are provided to present ground-breaking research, informative workshops are conducted, and it also opens up networking opportunities for all attendees. In fields like my own, exercise oncology, these major research advancements have the potential to affect the lives of millions of cancer survivors.
However, members of the public don’t generally attend academic conferences, and for professionals working in the field, a conference can be an overwhelming experience with hundreds of presentations, conversations and workshops. How do you decide on which sessions to attend? What do you do if you are an introvert and feel uncomfortable networking? And, should you skip the keynote on your last day to see the local sights? Added to these dilemmas are the high costs associated with attending, particularly in the case of international conferences: Registration fees, travel costs, hotels, food and drink etc, all add up to make it an expensive trip if paying out of your own pocket. Together, this highlights a gap for innovative knowledge exchange opportunities, easily accessible to all, and at a low cost to the attendee.
The use of social media amongst scientists has grown substantially over the last few years. Platforms such as Twitter are now regularly used by leading academics and scientists to help accelerate and amplify the impact of their research. By doing so, their research becomes more easily accessible to peers and members of the wider community, and they can also communicate directly and freely with each other. This places Twitter in a unique position, whereby its platform is at the tip of everyone’s fingers. Could it be used to deliver an “online conference”?
Well, yes!. Recently, I “attended” and presented some of my own preliminary data at the first Exercise Oncology Twitter Conference (#ExOncTC). There were 68 presentations on the day, from some of the leading researchers in the field. All 68 presentations can be viewed at: https://twitter.com/i/moments/1050676584514957312 (Thanks to Ian Lahart for pulling all 68 together). This was my first encounter with such a format and it was innovative and refreshing. Having previously attended academic conferences, this format targeted some of the previously mentioned issues relating to the traditional conference format. It provided an opportunity for researchers, clinicians and members of the public to learn and share information, and it encouraged collaboration and provided a real-time networking opportunity.
Each presentation was allotted a 15-minute timeslot, and they consisted of 6 consecutively numbered tweets. Audience participation was encouraged, and questions could be asked by replying to the tweet at the time of the presentations. Discussion could also continue long after the presentation had ended by following the official hashtag #ExOnTC. The day was a huge success and thoroughly enjoyable. Most of all I learned a lot, it was free, and easily accessible allowing attendees to continue discussions regarding presented work for hours to days following the end of the conference. Twitter allowed everyone to become an active participant in the discussion.
Although the traditional conference format is still probably the best way to divulge and ingest new research and knowledge, an ever increasing shift toward digitalisation means that Twitter conferences may become more common as it can help engage new audiences and widen participation beyond the walls of the traditional conference.
Acknowledgment. I’d like to thank the organisers, Sarah Weller, Ciaran Fairman and Keith Thraen-Borowski, without whom this conference would never have happened!