On Monday 17th March I attended the Digital Researcher Meeting at the British Library. It was run by Vitae, and no, I’m still not exactly sure who they are. I suspect they’re a re-branded version of a skill provider associated with the Horrible Seven (the research councils that control graduate/post-grad funding).

The theme of the day was encouraging researchers to ‘go digital’. That is, helping us all to understand how we can build online digital personas and develop profiles and access all the great stuff that comes from digital networking. The tools focused on were Blogs, Twitter, RSS feeds, Social Citation Sharing, Social Bookmarking and that sort of stuff.

For me what was most interesting was the fact that the conference was based around the use of Twitter (under the #dr10 tag) by participants, facilitators and people in the digital world alike. We were encouraged to communicate our thoughts and reactions on Twitter as we were sitting in the lecture hall or working in our groups.

This was not only really fun and really exciting, but also incredibly democratising. I didn’t feel any of the usual worries or concerns I get at conferences around talking to or arguing with people who are likely to be far more experienced and far more ¬†important than me. Doing it all digitally completely removed that barrier, which was great. It also meant that people who couldn’t attend could follow on Twitter and discuss things in real time, which I felt was great.

The down side of using Twitter was that it was exhausting to always be doing two things at once. Additionally it seemed almost impossible to do small group work and Twitter – I think at one point we all had to close our laptops to stop ourselves from getting distracted.

Other criticisms of the day would obviously be the lack of internet during the first part of the morning and the terrible bandwidth during the afternoon. In addition I did feel that the day itself was a little content-lite. From the actual content I got a little (I may give in and use Delicious soon, I will explore Mendeley, and I may start using RSS seriously rather than only in passing) but I suspect it wasn’t a whole day’s worth of information.

The day was great for lots of people who hadn’t really engaged with the idea of being a ‘digital researcher’, but for someone who alread blogs, uses Zotero, Twitter and FriendFeed I think it was a little basic. I’d have liked a more advanced version – perhaps a two-tier set of workshops, or even two separate days or half-days?

However I did meet a lot of very cool people, and I was very impressed by the Archives bunch. I always suspected librarians and archivists were into this digital thing, and my suspicions were confirmed! It was great seeing people who had only just joined Twitter getting really into it, starting blogs and going straight for engagement. I only wish archaeologists and anthropologists would give it a more serious go.

When discussing with someone from the new Digital Humanities department at UCL I realised suddenly how very alone I feel at the Institute – I couldn’t think of anyone else who was into the digital scene! I bet there’s a few more like me, who haven’t come of the blogging closet to anyone.

Due to the good, open levels of discussion and the very level playing field I ended up with a lot of really interesting ideas knocking around in my head. I was particularly struck by using Twitter or FriendFeed as a ‘background’ communication stream for a lecture series. I can’t quite express why that idea had such an impact, but I’m dying to try it out!

In general I thought that the day was well done, and I was a little smug when I saw that #dr10 was trending at third place in London on Twitter. It was definitely exciting and galvanising to be involved in the discussions. I hope that similar programmes will be developed, and I look forwards to hopefully use FriendFeed to maintain some of the momentum developed at the conference.

If you’re interested, have a look at the Twitter archive from the event, and try joining us at The Digital Researcher, Friendfeed!

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