[Sample pictures from the article discussed below are here -- Optimized for mobile viewing.]

A few days ago, Roy Kenagy wrote these interesting comments:

Browsing Twitter today, I was led to a wonderful blog which consists almost entirely of fine art images of people reading. [O Silêncio dos Livros, The Silence of the Books] … As far as I can piece together, the blog is from Hugo Miguel Costa, a bookseller in the small Portuguese city of Portimão.

Costa’s Silêncio is indeed an interesting article, and Roy does a great job of tracing how it got spread around the world in typical Twitter fashion, with many hands keeping the ball rolling, including mine. Building on Roy’s detailed description of the people involved, and their geographic locations, what I found interesting is the combination of “fields of specialty” and nationalities of the tweeters — Starting with the one who really got it going, Andréia Azevedo Soares (@BordadoIngles), a London-based science journalist, who’s from a Brazilian-Portuguese background (which is probably how she happened upon the Silêncio article), with a specialty in health/medicine (which is probably how I happened to be in her Twitter-community.) Here’s Soares’ tweet that got it started:

BordadoIngles: The iconography of the act of reading: the most beautiful list I’ve ever seen: http://tinyurl.com/bvrn3j
6:48 AM Dec 22nd

After I picked up the tweet from Soares and @EvidenceMatters, science and medicine people in the UK, it quickly got spread in the US (and back again to Europe, and to Asia) by people in those areas, as well as among librarians, who Roy helped to bring in.

What I find most interesting about this whole sequence is the word “iconography” — Which was first used to refer to Costa’s Silêncio article by Soares, when she introduced it to the English-speaking Twitterverse. I was doubtful about using the that word in my retweet, thinking that it sounded a bit too archaic, and that it would put people off from looking at the elegant pictures in Silêncio. But, to my surprise, it got attention, to the tune of ten RT’s in a day.

As Roy Kenagy points out, it’s difficult to trace the source of Silêncio. It’s also difficult to establish the date when it was first published, since the article has no date attached. Searching for the Portuguese title (Silêncio dos livros) in Google Blog search, I find articles as early as November 12 that refer to it. So it had apparently been around for at least a few weeks before Soares passed it on to the English world. Since Twitter search only goes back about ten days, it’s not possible to see how much it got tweeted in the Portuguese world in November and early December. Searching now for the Portuguese title and its English version finds only two tweets that are not related to the “iconography” thread.

This whole discussion has been especially interesting to me because it touches on so many of the themes I’ve blogged about here. Some of them are:

  • The importance of concise, creative writing in Twitter – The initial words in Soares’ tweet – “The iconography of the act of reading” essentially gave Silêncio a new English-language life. Her qualifying description “the most beautiful list I’ve ever seen” no doubt helped draw interest, but I’m pretty sure from my own experience that the first few words of a tweet are critical in drawing attention. As quickly as Silêncio got spread in the little corner of the Twitterverse that I inhabit, I suspect it will sooner-or-later spread among other Twitter-communities, maybe with another imaginative Tweet handle. (Seeing the Picture: Writing to Get Retweeted: Emphasize What’s Important!)
  • The vibrancy of science journalism on Twitter – There are several people with connections in this area in my Twitter-community, and I’ve learned much from them, I think because they straddle the world of science and publishing, both of which face similar problems to librarianship. (Seeing the Picture: Librarians & Publishers Twitter Together)
  • The uniqueness of Pictures – Silêncio is essentially a blog article made up of nothing but pictures – Pictures on the elusive theme of “reading books,” that many people seem to find fascinating – But how to communicate the subject in a few words? – “Iconography”? “Silence of the books”? As I said, sooner or later someone will think of something better. This all comes back to the ineffable problem of connecting pictures and text, as I discussed in Seeing the Picture’s first article: Think Different: Pictures.
  • Twitter and blogging working together – Silêncio is made up of “silent” pictures, that don’t “talk for themselves” i.e. have few to no words attached. Twitter is a way to hook some words to it. (Seeing the Picture: Keep the Ball Rolling: Twitter & Blogging Together)

Another theme that strikes me here, that I haven’t blogged about (yet), is the remarkable vitality of Net activity in the Portuguese world — Costa’s Silêncio article from Portugal and its spread by Brazil native Soares. I first noticed that there are interesting Portuguese net-happenings last year, when I discovered the phenomenal Twitter presence of Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado), who tweeted circles around the world with his prolific high-quality messages.

Roy Kenagy is @RoyKenagy

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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