An interesting New York Times story with a weak headline gave me a great opportunity recently to use my Twitter skills to tell the world about the story. In addition, the way my tweet was retweeted is a good secondary story, being an example of balancing Twitter retweet-etiquette with other priorities.

The screenshot at left shows a “what’s wrong with this headline” view of the story. The headline, as I’ve indicated with my highlighting, misses many of the important points of interest in the article, in my view.

The biggest problem with the headline is the dull, overused term “big data.” Apparently this is used to indicate the “12 million” items that are mentioned in the lead paragraph. But the “big data” concept has been used so broadly that “big data for books” could mean many things, from full-text to circulation. So I say mention the eye-catching “12 million” in the headline.

Admittedly, I may be library-biased, but I think it’s important to many people, not just librarians, that the library is centrally involved in this project. So the headline should say “Harvard Library” instead of “Harvard.”

Finally, the word “metadata,” which is used prominently in the story. Again, maybe it’s my librarian-centric view, but I think the term has become important for many people outside the library world, and would merit inclusion in the headline.

So, with the criticisms above, I “enhanced” the NYT headline in my tweet:

My enhancements worked — The tweet got several retweets. The way the retweets came is an interesting story in itself. My tweet was retweeted by Mathew Ingram, a prominent tech industry writer who I’m honored to have as a Twitter follower, and who has many more followers than I do. So I’m always glad when he likes one of my tweets enough to retweet it:

It’s clear that he got his tweet from mine, from the wording, which was original with me, and because he used the same bitly URL that I used. Usually his retweets follow the usual retweeting protocol of mentioning my Twitter name. But in this case he didn’t, because he wouldn’t have had room to include that and also the “pretty cool” comment he added at the head of the tweet. He no-doubt judged that adding his endorsement would draw attention to the tweet, and make people click it and retweet it, which is FINE WITH ME!

Priorities and the Art of Tweeting

The wider lesson here is that much of the skill of using Twitter is thinking about priorities. The 140-character limit on Tweets imposes a strict discipline, which requires constant consideration of “What’s important to include?” – Is it more important to give full credit to the writer of a tweet, or author of an article being linked, or is it more important to include a comment or a good quote from the article being tweeted that will draw traffic?

This all makes me think how far the fluid process of tweeting is from library book cataloging (that I experienced briefly in my early career), in which the catalog card is created from the title-page of the book according to strict rules. The only strict rule in Twitter is the 140-character limit — Within that, the canvas is empty, open to anything!

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

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