Why I Use Twitter and You Should Too

The other day I posted tweet no. 3,000 and thought I might take a few minutes to talk about what I find so valuable about this particular tool.  Twitter is by far my favorite social networking site.  While I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, and it’s a place where I can have some fun, I use Twitter overwhelmingly for professional purposes.  Admittedly, it is not easy to get started on Twitter.  In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive.  Why exactly do I only get 140 characters to work with and what the hell am I supposed to say?  Probably like most people I initially set up my account, posted a few tweets and then forgot about it for a time.

Like I said, getting started can be frustrating, but let me suggest why it may be worth it.  The first thing you need to do is understand is why you are using it.  Twitter is much more than simply responding to the question: “What’s Happening?”  I use it primarily to share information related to historical research,  the teaching of history, and other online sites that I come across that others may find interesting.  It’s one of the most efficient ways I’ve found to share information that matters to me with individuals who have similar interests.  Who, are these folks that I am sharing information with?  Well, they are people that have chosen to “Follow” my Twitter stream.  I, in turn, follow folks who are posting information that I find relevant.  As of the date of this post I am following 153 fellow tweeters and there are currently 424 individuals who follow my stream.  There is a practice or courtesy – sometimes referred to as “Reciprocal Following – that essentially returns the favor in response to the addition of a new member of your community.  As you can see I do not make this a practice.  I am very conscious of maintaining a Twitter stream that contains information that I find valuable.  The more attention you give to who you follow determines the quality of information you receive and how much you get out of the overall experience.  What it comes down to is that I now have an additional 153 pairs of eyes that I can count on to share quality information with me, information that I probably would never have come across on my own.  Once that tweet (usually including a hyperlink) comes across my stream I can do any number of things with it, including “Retweeting” it for my readers, emailing it to a friend, saving it to my Delicious Bookmarks, etc.  Finally, I enjoy the short conversations on Twitter.  The character limit forces users to keep it brief and to the point.  That said, I am continually amazed at the quality of the dialog that is possible with the various shortcuts that you will learn in a brief period of time.

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It’s Just a T-Shirt With Lincoln Bustin’ a Move

I still don’t get what is so wrong with this shirt that Eric Wittenberg found in the gift shop at the Gettysburg Visitor Center.  At first I thought that Lincoln was reacting to a gun shot, which would seem inappropriate, but I quickly realized that “Old Abe” was kickin’ some new dance moves.  It’s a pretty hip design and what’s more American than having some fun with our historical figures.  In fact, I am going to purchase one next time I am in Gettysburg.

Which reminds me, I am going to be in Gettysburg in July as a participant in this summer’s Civil War Preservation Trust workshop for teachers.  On Saturday night I am taking part in a roundtable discussion on the role of technology and social networking tools in the classroom.  Check out the website and register for what promises to be a dynamite list of talks and tours of the Gettysburg battlefield.

[Image from Rantings of a Civil War Historian]

Yeah, But Why Do They Have To Wear the Sheets?

Apparently, a high school history teacher in Georgia allowed her students to film themselves in Klan robes as part of their study of the organization as well as the history of race.  At one point students paraded through the school cafeteria and confronted an African American student and asked if they could reenact a lynching:

”I don’t apologize for the project, a tearful Aremmia told CBS Atlanta.  I do apologize that someone felt threatened.  I teach about United States history.  I teach about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I would tell the students, why don’t you film that off campus on your own time. Would I tell them not to? No, because that’s part of history and to not acknowledge it is saying, that it’s OK. I’m sorry, it isn’t. It’s unacceptable.”

Student Cody Rider told reporters the incident left him ‘outraged’.  He said he wanted to fight the students when they asked his cousin, also a student at the school, if they could ‘re-enact the lynching of him for their class project’.  “My little cousin comes up and taps me on the shoulder, and there was fear in his eyes,” he said.  “He was like, he just started pointing, like he couldn’t even talk, that’s how bad it was. There was fear in his eyes, and I looked up and they are walking through the hallway in white sheets.”

The problem is that Catherine Aremmia should apologize if the story is true.  As I see it there are two problems here.  First, asking students to dress up as Klansmen has nothing to do with “teach[ing] about United States history; all I can see is students being asked to don Klan robes.  A significant gap is likely to exist between their historical understanding of the roles they are assuming and where their imaginations take them.

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Does This Mean No More Talk of Black Confederates?

Looks like the Sons of Confederate Veterans is amending their Constitution.  You can read the proposed amendments here, but one in particular struck me as kind of funny:

Proposed Constitutional Amendment – 2010-3
Proposed by Charles Kelly Barrow
John McIntosh Kell Camp 107

2.1. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, in furtherance of the Charge of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, shall be strictly patriotic, historical, educational, fraternal, benevolent, non-political, non-racial and non-sectarian. The Sons of Confederate Veterans neither embraces, nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial and religious bigotry, and further, [ strongly ] condemns the misuse of its sacred symbols and flags in the conduct of same. Each member is expected to perform his full duty as a citizen according to his own conscience and understanding.

I guess this means no more talk of thousands of loyal slaves fighting as Confederate soldiers.  And while you are browsing the SCV’s online store make sure you pick up a copy of Antebellum Slavery: An Orthodox Christian View (2008) by Gary Lee Roper which claims an orthodox Christian defense of slavery:

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Moving Toward a Plugin-less Blog

You may have noticed that I’ve made a few changes to the look of Civil War Memory.  Actually, these changes go beyond simply moving back to a full-width framework and a transition to Arial as the main content font.  Over the past few weeks I’ve slowly stripped the site of just about every plugin.  While WordPress plugins add a great deal of functionality to your site the downside is quite often a slow load time, especially those associated with social networking sites.  Another problem that I’ve encountered is that plugin authors are often slow to update their code with new versions of WordPress.  Essentially, the installation of a plugin increases the number of external sites that your blog must rely on to load properly and quickly.  I noticed this with DISQUS, which added a great deal of functionality to comments and allowed readers increased access to one another.  Unfortunately, any problems on their end directly impacted the user experience, which is simply unacceptable.  It sometimes felt like my blog was being held hostage.

I am now committed to locating as much of my blog’s functionality locally.  I’ve gone from 20 to 6 plugins over the past few weeks, the remainder of which include: Akismet (spam), Get Recent Comments, Popular Posts, Post-Plugin Library, Recent Posts, and Subscribe to Comments.  Functionality related to SEO is built into Thesis Theme, which is my theme of choice and ought to be yours as well.  As you can see I’ve ditched those plugins that expand the blog’s social networking reach.  The Share This plugin is gone as is Follow Me which was hidden away on the right side of the screen.  In addition, I’ve nixed all of the code for such sites as FriendFeed and LibraryThing.  This has forced me to learn a bit of php and css language, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  If you’ve experienced very brief downtime over the past few weeks that’s me crashing the site with some idiotic mistake with the code.  Luckily, it’s very easy to correct.  I still need to figure out a way to bring back the Facebook Community badge as well as a Twitter feed.  Again, the only way I will do it is without a plugin.

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