Spring is near: Brown tweets toward Web 2.0

By
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Students procrastinating in the library and Brown administrators may now speak in the same character-limited language: Twitter.

Twitter, a kind of miniature blogging service that allows people to update their friends, or “followers,” on their lives in “tweets” of 140 characters or fewer, was recently taken up by the University as an experiment in public relations.

Among University-related feeds now on Twitter are “brownuniversity,” which automatically provides links to news from Media Relations, Brown Alumni Magazine, Today at Brown and Brown.edu Web sites, and “MHollmer,” a life sciences-themed Twitter run by Mark Hollmer, senior media specialist in the Life Sciences.

“We will give it a good test for the rest of the semester,” said Mark Nickel, director of University communications, adding that the primary purpose of the sites is media outreach. The “brownuniversity” page was set up last fall, and the Office of Public Affairs and University Relations began running “MHollmer” just two weeks ago, according to Twitter.

The public affairs office initially chose life sciences as the discipline to “experiment” with, Nickel added in an e-mail to The Herald, because “life science writers are a fairly well-delineated media group.”

“We really haven’t had enough experience with Twitter to know whether or how well it might work for us,” Nickel wrote. “It may end up being one of several methods we use to distribute news about Brown, but will probably not be the most important one.”

Other University-related feeds include the Brown University men’s lacrosse team – on Twitter, BrownLacrosse. “Men’s lax put a beating on a very good young alumni squad. great physical game (sic),” reads an update posted on Saturday.

Parents of the players post team events for relatives who are unable to attend the game, according to Jake Westermann ’10, whose father contributes to the team’s separate blog.

Brown also appears on Ivytwitter.com, launched last April. The separate site follows all of the Twitter posts related to the eight Ivy League schools.

The Ivytwitter feed for Brown displays all content on Twitter with the words ‘Brown’ and ‘University’ in the tweet.

Some posts, though, are seemingly – and perhaps inevitably – random.

“I hope to God that I get into Brown, Cornell, Duke or Washington University in St. Louis. Please. They are my dream colleges. April 1st!” reads one tweet.

Twitterers can be institutions as well as people. Starbucks, for example, has one. So does 10 Downing Street (DowningStreet), the British prime minister’s residence.

Though the University is just beginning to explore the technology, some students are already adept Twitterers.

“When I first joined, I was really skeptical of this,” said Eric Johnson ’11, a newscaster for WBRU who started using the service for networking for the radio station. “What in the world can you say in 140 characters?”

“I think it really changed the way people who have blogs get their world out there,” he said. “It’s very easy to get your message out to people.”