Just some reflections on why the site is not a total waste of time, and how to get the most out of it |
I used to be completely mystified by the appeal of Twitter, and indeed actively disliked the idea of being active on it. Yet in the last few years, I’ve become quite fond of it as a platform:
This post is meant for anyone who is likewise mystified, or for anyone getting started and trying to figure out the best way to use it. I’ll first lay out what I (as someone who is fond of the platform) see as the appeal of Twitter, and then how I try to go about using it to get the most out of it (as someone who has laid out some rules of thumb for myself based on my experience using it).
A lot of writing already exists that does this, but much of it is quite formal and focuses on stuff like ‘networking’ and ‘professional advancement’; this won’t be that serious and will instead just present my personal perspective, often with embedded tweets to serve as examples. I won’t get into the mechanics of signing up or tweeting conventions too much, there are plenty of other write ups for that.
- What you can get out of twitter
- How to get the most out of twitter
- Do: follow people
- Do: Be positive and polite
- Do: Use it to make your work more visible & accessible
- Do: Feel free to be opinionated or silly
- Do: Remember that behind each account is a fellow human being (except for bots)
- Don’t: indulge too much
- Don’t: Engage in needless disagreements
- Don’t: Focus on the numbers
- Don’t: Propagate misinformation
What you can get out of twitter
First and foremost, Twitter is a means to be ‘plugged in’. Whether its news regarding your profession, your hobbies, or any other topic, chances are if you get on Twitter and follow the right people it’ll quickly become a means of keeping up with what’s going on. Of course, it’s also a source of misinformation, but as long as you stay duly critical Twitter can legitimately make you more informed about stuff you care about and current events.
🤯😯— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 29, 2020
Simple idea with amazing looking results! Always exciting to see. https://t.co/jZPjaqLoUD
As an academic whose field (Artificial Intelligence) is pretty active on Twitter, I was surprised to find how effective it was for surfacing exciting new papers, announcements about conferences, and other such relevant and useful information. Not only that, but it has often led me to encounter papers I would have likely just not seen otherwise.
Super cool way to convey research in an accessible way! Bravo 👏 https://t.co/WL1zkBPUoK— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 14, 2020
Of course, the flip side of the above is that by tweeting you can try and let the world know of your own news.
When looking at RL training, it's often frustrating to see the agent taking so long to discover simple things you could code up yourself for parts of the task.— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) September 13, 2019
Well now you can!
Check out our new work on RL with an Ensemble of Suboptimal Teachers, to be presented at #CoRL2019. https://t.co/CWV3VY7iID
You don’t need to engage with the site much to do this, and in fact many professors seem to be on the site primarily to share their lab’s work.
Want to have your robot cut tofu or scoop icing? Our work on assistive feeding combines low-dimensional latent actions with shared autonomy for precise assistive teleoperation. #RSS2020— Dorsa Sadigh (@DorsaSadigh) May 8, 2020
w/ Hong Jun Jeon, Dylan Losey
That being said, Twitter is not all work and no play. Like much of the internet, memes and cute videos circulate on it non stop which Twitter presents to you via its mysterious algorithm for choosing the content to surface. Personally I do quite enjoy the element of randomness in my browsing, but you also have the option to limit what you see to just being a chronological view of what people you follow post.
Far too relatable 😅 https://t.co/8y8mDSfgzn— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 10, 2020
In case you need some more weird amusing Twitter accounts to follow... here you go! This one is great :D https://t.co/vz9fj8faIV— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) May 6, 2020
Twitter can often be a place to air one’s thoughts, and as a result can also be a place to discuss such thoughts. Of course you can’t exactly have deeply nuanced and rich conversations, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of some of the exchanges I’ve had on there.
""I think generally people underestimate the capability of AI — they sort of think it's a smart human ... But it's going to be much more than that. It will be much smarter than the smartest human."— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) August 30, 2019
Present day AI is not as smart as any human, and we dont know if it ever will be.
ah thank you, good to know the term already existed and has seen some adoption! I (and it seems others) knew of the concept but not the term, and the term itself is sensible and useful as shorthand.— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 24, 2020
Lastly, you can legitimately get to know the body of work of people and interact with them despite having never met them. This is of course not a close connection, but it is still a potent way for getting initial connections to people in your community. These initial connections can then lead to meeting in person down the line, which is often quite fun:
A positive aspect of Twitter (and especially @AcademicChatter Twitter): finding out about cool people you would not otherwise have known about, keeping up with their work / views / memes, and making plans + being excited to meet in person eventually at a conference or something.— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) February 23, 2020
How to get the most out of twitter
Do: follow people
Twitter has a lot of quite active users, and once you find a few that post things you find cool or interesting it becomes quite fun. When I come across a cool seeming person these days I often check if they have a Twitter account to follow, and likewise follow any random people I come across on Twitter itself. Some stuff out there implies your following-follower ratio matters, but I’ve never about it myself and just follow people as I feel like it.
Do: Be positive and polite
Personally, I try to be pretty positive when Tweeting. It’s ultimately a social platform, and everyone’s experience on there is a function of how everyone else uses it. There is enough negativity, cynicism, and mean-spirited criticism out there in the world, so even when having a disagreement I aim to be at least respectful to others, and generally leave my moping to myself.
Of course, this is a rule of thumb and there are likely times in which you may share sad or negative sentiments, too. In fact, a little analysis shows I do so myself:
Do: Use it to make your work more visible & accessible
Self-promotion can often feel lame to do, but personally I quite enjoy coming across various projects I might have never seen if not for Twitter. The enforced brevity of Twitter is actually kind of a benefit here, as it’s just a place for you to ‘elevator pitch’ it to people and share a link if they feel like reading more. This is very commonly done by AI researchers, for instance:
Automatic Curriculum Learning For Deep RL: A Short Survey— Pierre-Yves Oudeyer (@pyoudeyer) March 12, 2020
What is ACL? Why use ACL? Which forms of ACL (e.g. goal generation, reward shaping, procedural gen. of envs, self-play)? What open questions?https://t.co/2mAVUqbR0S
w @RPortelas @cedcolas @lilianweng @katjahofmann pic.twitter.com/to8cmc4DRM
Check out our work on joint semantic matching and co-segmentation in PAMI! https://t.co/oBRFHMXqGo— Jia-Bin Huang (@jbhuang0604) April 26, 2020
Yun-Chun will start his exciting Ph.D. journey in U of Toronto with @animesh_garg pic.twitter.com/JA8U9v3Bw4
You can also make a Twitter thread and share the ‘high level’ view of the work and its main take aways, which makes it much easier for people not in your immediate field to get a first feel for it and perhaps get interested. In this way Twitter is also a nice platform for science communication and engagement with non-experts.
Do: Feel free to be opinionated or silly
That being said, once again, all work and no play is not my policy on Twitter. It can be quite fun to share jokes or take part in memes, so if you are moved to do so I don’t think there is a big stigma about being a bit silly on there.
Do: Remember that behind each account is a fellow human being (except for bots)
A good rule of thumb for everywhere on the internet, really.
Don’t: indulge too much
Although Twitter can be occasionally feel productive due to you coming upon news and such, at the end of the day it is a social media platform that is engineered to try and get you as addicted to it as possible. As with any such platform, not spending much time is a good idea. I’ve long had it on my phone and used it as my default way to fill empty time, but recently decided to uninstall it and only use it via a browser to limit my usage. I also use the time tracker RescueTime to guilt-trip myself into not wasting too much time on there or elsewhere, and would recommend it.
Don’t: Engage in needless disagreements
This is a corollary to the above. In a weird way, I actually think of Twitter as a useful mental excercise tool; you will likely see takes or ideas you disagree with, and i’ve found consciously choosing not to engage and instead just move on to be something i’ve gotten better at over time. The occasional discussion can be fun, of course, but more often than not this mostly a waste a time and better avoided.
Agreed!— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 9, 2020
Not wasting your energy on dead end / unproductive conversations is essential to getting the most out of Twitter.
As you use it you will most likely see things you disagree with; %99 of the time, best to let it go and move on.
Save your energy for positive exchanges :) https://t.co/IEe4hE88gn
Don’t: Focus on the numbers
Twitter puts numbers (followers, favorites, retweets, etc.) in your face to an ever greater extent than other social media platforms, and even has a little personal analytics tool to track these numbers. For some professions cultivating a following is of course important and it’s not realistic to ignore these numbers, but personally I try to do just that as much as possible. In fact, I have installed a plugin called Twitter Demetricator
This Twitter Demetricator extension is really a game changer for this site!— Andrey Kurenkov 🤖 (@andrey_kurenkov) April 17, 2020
So refreshing to not care how much something has been shared/liked and just to judge content (see example in img).
Plus encouraged me to uninstall on phone, also a good call. https://t.co/fm63zlQw3t pic.twitter.com/V30PSyfss5
Don’t: Propagate misinformation
Lastly, you might be surprised with how easy it is to fall for false information and propagate it via likes or retweets. A good rule of thumb is to not immediately believe anything you read, until you can verify the primary source that information is based on.