Twitter can SAVE You Time

Whenever I’m trying to pitch Twitter to a group of teachers who are new to the product, one of the first bits of pushback that I get goes something like this:

I don’t have the time for Twitter!  I’ve got papers to grade and plans to write.  It must be nice to have tons of extra time to waste poking around in useless messages posted by people you don’t know.”

Now, I get it:  Twitter—and other social media spaces that people have embraced—have gotten a bad rap simply because so many people DO waste huge amounts of time in social media spaces.

But I can tell you that if you use it right, Twitter will save you time.  Period.  End of discussion.

Here’s proof:

As a writer, I’m constantly struggling to craft references for the pieces that I’m developing.  And while I’ve used all kinds of online reference generators over time, I’ve never been completely happy with any of them.

I bumped into that same problem on Saturday morning as I was polishing my reference list for my next book.  Specifically, I was wondering why there wasn’t a plugin for my web browser that would generate citations automatically for me.

Here’s what I wrote:



Notice that my message is really nothing more than a vent, right?  I’m not asking if anyone knew of a solution.  I’m not looking for help from a specific person.  I’m just frustrated that something that could be automated wasn’t.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Derek Hatch—an assistant principal in Canada who I’ve never met before—responded within the hour, saying:




So I checked out Zotero and was completely blown away because it does EXACTLY what I wanted it to. 

It dumps a bunch of information about online sources into a citation maker automatically.  Better yet, it generates a perfectly formatted final citation that I can slap into my works cited pages easily.

Derek’s share—something I didn’t expect at all—ended up saving me HOURS of time yesterday, as I quickly completed citations for almost 30 sources in about 30 minutes.

Better yet, Derek’s share will inevitably make its way into my sixth grade classroom.  We introduce students to research projects and citations, after all—and putting great tools that increase efficiency into the hands of my kids is what I’m all about.

What lessons can you learn from my Zotero experience?

Perhaps most importantly, taking the time to build a digital network in Twitter—a collection of like minds that you can learn with—will save you time in the long run. 

Sharing my need for an online citation generator took me less than a minute.  Reading my message—and then sharing a solution that is darn near perfect—probably took Derek less than a minute.

Crazy, isn’t it?  Who would have ever imagined that complete strangers connecting through streams of public instant messages could add so much value to one another’s lives?

But it’s true—and it’s all waiting for you if you’re willing to give Twitter a whirl.

24 thoughts on “Twitter can SAVE You Time

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  4. Nesticos

    Yes! And, oh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard,
    “I don’t have the time for Twitter! I’ve got papers to grade and plans to write. It must be nice to have tons of extra time to waste poking around in useless messages posted by people you don’t know.”
    Once you get it, you need to buckle your seatbelt as you are likely to learn so very much more than you’ve ever learned in any professional PD or college course! I know I did!

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Pal,
    Thanks for stopping by the Radical! Its always great to see you in my space—you are, after all, my hero!
    I think the most interesting line in your comment is this one: A Twitter account is only as good as your number of followers–but a FB
    account will let you share more content, fluidly, with exactly the
    people you most value.
    I definitely agree that Facebook tends to put you into contact with people that you value primarily because theyre people that you generally know on a more intimate level than the people who you network with in Twitter. Where Id push back a bit, though, is with the idea that a Twitter account is only as good as the number of your followers.
    I find that I learn just as much from the people that Im following—even if I dont ever interact directly with them or if they dont ever answer a question that Ive asked directly. Thats because Ive chosen those individuals because the kind of content that theyre likely to share and the kinds of information that theyre likely to be interested in is the same kinds of content and information that Im likely to be interested in, too.
    That leads to a bunch of unintentional learning for me in Twitter. I stumble across ideas and articles and resources all the time that help me directly in my work even when I didnt ask for the help simply because the people that Im following are studying the same kinds of things that I care about.
    Its almost a fortuitous searching kind of deal. I never know what Im going to find in my Twitter stream, but I almost always know that Ill find something that can help me in my own work—either within or beyond the classroom. I guess the word fortuitous doesnt really fit, though, because my discoveries arent truly accidental or the result of luck—theyre the result of careful choices that I made when selecting the individuals whose updates I wanted to follow.
    And—at least for a guy like me who is less driven by relationships and more driven by ideas—Twitter is a place that requires less commitment. I dont have to worry about whether I respond to every message that is shared with me. Thats not an expectation in Twitter—-which means I can follow more people without investing more time in maintaining or monitoring relationships with everyone who I am following or who is following me.
    Does any of this make sense?
    In the end, I think Marshas got it right—-the type of space that you are drawn to is often defined by the kind of person that you are.
    Rock right on,

  6. Nancy Flanagan

    Both Twitter and Facebook can be huge time-wasters, too– sucking a busy person into unnecessary blah-blah, and making it harder to connect to the real, live people in our classrooms and living rooms.
    I use both, fairly prodigiously. A Twitter account is only as good as your number of followers–but a FB account will let you share more content, fluidly, with exactly the people you most value. IF you’re careful about security and access.
    I did appreciate your tip (which, I ought to point out, I got from reading your blog, now seen by many of the tech elite as old-fashioned and wordy) on Zotero. I spent $200 on Endnote software which was supposed to do that, and found it clunky and awful.

  7. S_bearden

    Bill, my twitter PLN has also come through for me when I asked for assistance. Just yesterday I asked my PLN for resources to help with teaching teacher PD on Creative Commons and they came through for me! Perhaps even more importantly, they have provided resources that I have been able to share with others. I save interesting resource links to Evernote and on more than one occasion I have been able to assist colleague by sharing resources I found via my twitter feed a month before. Yes, it does take time to build a PLN. But the benefits for me have been well worth it, and I have only been on twitter for 2 months! Plus, I just really enjoy interacting with brilliant, forward-thinking people, and I have found a lot of those via twitter.

  8. Bill Ferriter

    Marsha wrote:
    Maybe Im doing something wrong but Im having much more success in
    building a PLN through my FB friends and through the readers of my blog.
    Maybe the point is that some people gravitate one way because of their
    style or because of those they find…maybe the point is that you should
    be out there trying all the forms and formats…finding which one works
    best for you and then using it to its maximum advantage.
    Hey Pal,
    Glad to see you here—and your comment is brilliant!
    For a long while yesterday morning, I considered naming my post PLNs can SAVE You Time simply because youre right: Twitter didnt save me time yesterday—-my PLN did, and I just happened to build that PLN using Twitter.
    If youre networking through Facebook successfully, or through the comment sections in blog entries, or through conversations in the faculty room, youre accomplishing the same goal that I am in Twitter.
    In the end, I chose to focus on Twitter in my post simply because it seems to have a worse rap than other social media services yet its been really successful for me.
    A few more thoughts:
    (1). Whenever someone is trying to build a PLN—regardless of the tool—I recommend that they bring friends with them. Friends are far more likely to read and respond to your questions than strangers. That probably explains why youre more successful in Facebook right now than Twitter. Id bet—and I dont know for sure—-that you are networked with more people that you have personal relationships already with there.
    (2). Ive had more success in Twitter, I think, because outside of my blog, its the only social media service that I use. While Ive got a Facebook page, I havent even logged into it since June of last year. Theres a lesson in both of our stories, I think—and its a lesson you articulate in your comment: Successfully building a PLN means finding a space youre comfortable with and sticking with it.
    (3). If youre determined to use more than one space for networking, though, Id recommend using a service like TweetDeck to make participation in both spaces possible from one place. In TweetDeck, you can follow and participate in conversations in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn all at once—and you can cross post messages in more than one place all at once. Thats a huge time-saver because youre not wasting time checking in to multiple places every day. It also multiples the audience that your post gets in front of—which increases your chances of getting a reply.
    Does any of this make sense?
    Rock right on,

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Angela wrote:
    In your example, rather than venting on Twitter about the lack of an
    app, I would have just typed firefox app citation into Google to see
    if such a thing existed. Its the first listing, actually.
    First, thanks for stopping by, Angela. Glad that most of what I write makes sense to you.
    As far as your push back goes, theres a bit of a difference between using Google to get a result and using Twitter to get a result. Its something that Bill Ivey mentions in his comment above: The results you get from Twitter have already been screened by people that you know and trust—and that have some kind of experience with the tools that theyre recommending and expertise in the field in which you work.
    So when Derek Hatch messaged me back suggesting Zotero, the first thing that I did was go and see who he was. When I found out that he was an assistant principal in charge of technology, his credibility rose in my book—and so did the credibility of Zotero as a tool. I knew that someone working in education believed in the tool. That makes it more likely that Ill believe in it too.
    Google results are different, though. I just did your firefox app citation search and while Zotero appears first in the list, on the first page of the search results alone there are 4 other services mentioned. Knowing me, Im going to probably end up poking around all of those tools trying to make a choice between them—where as when I get a response in Twitter, Im far more likely to take it and run with it because I know that someone else has already done that poking around for me.
    Does this make sense?
    Basically, Twitter is an information filter—-it is a place for getting quick access to tools, services and ideas that have been vetted by people that I know and trust.

  10. Angela Watson

    Correction: ‘firefox plug-in citations’. Somehow my mind immediately went to apps when reading your post.
    Interestingly, ‘firefox app citations’ still pulls up Zotero as the top result.

  11. Angela Watson

    Bill, I always enjoy your blog and rarely disagree with your conclusions, but I’m not convinced this post was really pro-Twitter. In your example, rather than venting on Twitter about the lack of an app, I would have just typed ‘firefox app citation’ into Google to see if such a thing existed. It’s the first listing, actually.

  12. mratzel

    Dear Bill,
    Oh how I wish i could agree with you about Twitter saving me time. I haven’t had the success with Twitter that you have enjoyed.
    I’ve re-committed myself this year to try harder and I’ve invested time in trying to build PLNs that make sense with what I do. I will quickly acknowledge that I have found other teachers who work in the same things that I do.
    But I cannot say that I’ve ever really had any success in getting Twitter to save me time. I ask questions and usually I never receive any ideas or answers. It must be my questions….I’ve asked for many things good PBL lessons, tips for techie things, mostly recently what the yellow egg-like things in the soil might be.
    I’ve tried to create relationships with others by reading their posts and responding. Offering help when I can. Retweeting posts that I thought were extremely useful. And I’ve found lots of cool things I would have never found otherwise(even though I wasn’t looking for those things).
    Maybe I’m doing something wrong but I’m having much more success in building a PLN through my FB friends and through the readers of my blog.
    Maybe the point is that some people gravitate one way because of their style or because of those they find…maybe the point is that you should be out there trying all the forms and formats…finding which one works best for you and then using it to its maximum advantage.
    I’m not giving up on Twitter. I faithfully put in each day….maybe your reality will come for me at some point. But that time isn’t right now.

  13. Jessica

    Zotero completely saved my husband. It can also be linked to Mendeley and then inserted directly into word documents. Don’t you just love online sharing/learning! That is the power of an online learning community (like one you can be a part of on twitter!).

  14. Jennifer Thompson

    As someone who has been slow to embrace Twitter, your post absolutely convinces me of its benefits. Zotero is fantastic, and I, too, am excited about introducing it to my middle schoolers to try out for their research projects.

  15. Bill Ivey

    Twitter is a tool. Each of us can choose to use it wisely or poorly. I absolutely agree with you; at its best, Twitter is a time-saver. I feel better-informed than ever because I periodically hone and prune my Twitter feed to people whose tweets interest me and provide me with information I care about just one click away. No need to type in a search and do my best to evaluate the usefulness of links from the two-line description Google gives me. I’ve even deliberately worked in feeds from people with whom I disagree, to keep me on my toes. It does require discipline, in my case, to keep it from taking over my life. But that’s me. Not the tool.

  16. Stephanie Dulmage

    Thank you, again! I will be using your blog post at a district-wide PD regarding embedding tech to change the learning oppportunities and culture for both teachers and students.

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