This edition of NetSpeak takes a relook at some of the ongoing developments in the world of Twitter, the most popular social media tool.

As discussed in the past (http://www.hindu.com/biz /2010/04/26/stories/2010042651521400.htm), Twitter is an amazing content gathering medium.

With tens of hundreds of tweets flowing across the Twitter network, the ‘twitterverse' is almost bursting at the seams. To bring some order into this ever-growing content, Twitter users attach something called a hash-tag with their tweets to categorise them. As you are aware, a hash-tag is nothing but a word/phrase/abbreviation prefixed with the pound sign character ‘#' (for instance the hash-tag ‘#rstats' is used while sending tweets pertaining to the statistical package ‘R').

The hash-tag helps track content pertaining to a topic, as we need to only follow the hash-tag attached to that topic. When you send a tweet with a hash-tag, it reaches all Twitter users who follow this tag (not just to your followers). To track a hash-tag, you can either use the Twitter search service or Twitter clients like Tweetdeck.

The hash-tag concept is a highly decentralised one and there is little restriction as to the kind of hash-tags one can attach with a tweet. It is one of the several concepts shaped and nurtured by lay netizens. Though a very simple concept, hash-tagging has enormous applications in the Twitter scheme of things. Besides categorising content, it is used to collaboratively curate content too. It also comes in handy for monitoring event related tweets like tweets from participants of a conference/seminar. For instance, if a seminar's participants submit tweets pertaining to the seminar discussions with a pre-defined hash-tag, others can easily monitor the seminar events by simply following the specified hash-tag.

An offshoot of the hash-tag concept is the ‘Twitter chat' or discussions based on hash-tags organised at specific time points. One can start a hash-tag based ‘twitter chat' on any topic one chooses. A tweet chat is similar to an on-line conference, where people interested in a topic assemble regularly at a specific time point and exchange thoughts/ideas/resources on the topic concerned via tweets. The longevity of such discussions is also limited to a specific duration — could be thirty minutes, one hour and so on.

A twitter chat involves a specific topic and therefore serves as an excellent means to get in touch with like-minded people. The participants share ideas via tweets attached with the hash-tag specified by the chat organiser. For instance, if you wish to participate in the chat with the tag ‘#educhat', you should attach each of the tweets with this hash-tag. Some professionals use it for discussing selected journal articles as well.

If your intention is to just follow the conversation, simply invoke a search on Twitter search service with the hash-tag specified for the ‘twitter chat'. Twitter content tracking tools (such as Tweetgrid and Tweetdeck), could also be used for this purpose. Services specifically tuned to monitor/participate in Twitter chats are also in place. The free service, Tweetchat (http://tweetchat.com/) is an excellent application in this genre. To participate in a ‘tweet chat' via this tool, log-in with your Twitter account and enter the relevant hash-tag. At this point, you will find tweets related to chat's topic flowing across the window. If you wish to respond to any of the tweets, just enter your message in the input box. The service will automatically attach the chat's hash-tag with your tweet and send it to the Twitter network. Twebevent (http://twebevent.com/) is yet another service worth a look in this context. Tweet chats on a variety of subjects such as education (#Edchat, #onlinelearning and the like), technology (example #blogchat), jobsearch (#jobhunt and #HFChat) and so on are in place. The popular Google shared spreadsheet, ‘Twitter Chat Sheet' (http://goo.gl/DJR7L) that contains information on several twitter chats being held across the Net is an excellent resource to locate relevant chats (this growing database currently hosts information on more than 420 chats). Monitoring tweets (via Twitter's search service or with twitter clients like Tweetdeck) with the keyword ‘twitter chat' is another means to obtain the latest information in this realm.

He can be contacted at jmurali@gmail.com