How to host a #geowebchat

…or any twitter chat, for that matter!

Over the last year and a half we’ve had a bunch of great guest hosts for #geowebchat. Thanks to Peter A. Johnson, Ryan Burns, Joe Eckert, Renee Sieber, Andrew Shears, Muki Haklay, Britta Ricker, Monica Stephens, Ana Brandusescu, and Johnathan Rush.

Having all of this help hosting the chat has really eased the burden of organizing the chat all by myself, and the diversity of perspectives keeps the discussions fresh. If we want to keep #geowebchat going as a community resource, I’m going to keep relying on frequent guest hosts. This means you! So, have you considered hosting a #geowebchat? It’s fun, and easier than you think!

Learn about #geowebchat:

If you don’t know about #geowebchat, you can read more about it here. It’s probably a good idea to join a few #geowebchats before you think about hosting one, but don’t feel like you have to be an expert before you become a host!

Also, it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with other twitter chats. There are thousands of chats on various topics, as you can see by browsing this nearly-comprehensive spreadsheet of twitter chats. Here are a few that are particularly relevant to academics (who make up a large portion of the #geowebchat community):

Picking a topic:

  • Look over the transcripts of previous chats and see what topics we have already covered. If enough time has passed, or if you have a fresh take on a topic, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a subject that we have already discussed.
  • Consult the #geowebchat hosting spreadsheet for other topic ideas.
  • Consider inviting a domain expert to join the chat. This could be someone who has never attended a #geowebchat before; it would be up to you as the host to help introduce them to how twitter chats work. So far, we haven’t had many “guest stars” in our #geowebchats, but this is a common practice in other twitter chats.
  • If you can’t think of a good topic, you could wait until the last minute and host a topical chat about some geoweb-related events in the news.

Two weeks in advance:

  • Reconfirm the date and topic with @mappingmashups, so we can announce your chat at the end of the previous one.

One week in advance

  • Send an announcement email to the geoweb-r mailing list, and to any other lists that are relevant to your topic. This email only needs to be a couple of paragraphs long, and should briefly explain the topic, pose a few questions for discussion, and, optionally, provide links to supplemental readings that people can read before the chat. Make sure you include the date and time. Also include a link to http://mappingmashups.net/geowebchat. Remember that this email might get forwarded on to people who have never heard of #geowebchat, or twitter chats in general, so try to include a little bit of background information.
  • You can also have @mappingmashups post the announcement text to the blog. Here are a few examples of what that looks like: Crisis mapping and Typhoon Haiyan/YolandaWhere Next for the MSc in GIS?#geowebchat about #opendata

A few days before:

  • Start sending out announcement tweets, and get your followers to retweet them. Again, remember to include the specific date and time. Avoid relying on words like “tomorrow”, because your tweet will be received by people in time zones all around the world where today is already tomorrow. Also, your tweet might be retweeted hours or days later.

During the chat:

Hosting a twitter chat is a lot like moderating any other kind of discussion, on- or offline. This part will also depend a lot on your own personal style. A few tips:

  • At the start of the chat, remind people about handy twitter tools like Tweetchat.com and Twitterfall.com.
  • Have a loose structure in mind, and plan to pose a new question or subtopic every 15 or 20 minutes. However, if the conversation starts to move in an unexpected and interesting direction, there’s nothing wrong with letting it evolve naturally.
  • Read 5 Steps to Hosting Successful Twitter Chats (Especially point #4: Run Your Twitter Chat)
  • As the moderator, you can also help out by posting definitions to key terms or acronyms that might be unfamiliar to casual readers. Along these same lines, it will also help readers if you can look up and tweets URLs to key references that participants mention during the chat.

After the chat:

  • Thank everybody who joined, especially first-time participants.
  • Archive the chat. (Usually @mappingmashups will take care of this for you)
  • Continue the discussion on twitter, on your blog, through email, and offline. Use the ideas from the chat in your own work (with proper attribution, of course!) and use the chat as a way to form new collaborations. Let us know how the #geowebchat has helped you in your work!

Do you have any more tips for hosting #geowebchat? Leave a comment below.

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