Assembling a twitter following: people continue to be interested in genome assembly

Late in 2010, I was asked to help organise what would initially become The Assemblathon and then more formally Assemblathon 1. One of the very first things I did was to come up with the name itself — more here on naming bioinformatics projects — register the domain name, and secure the Twitter account @Assemblathon.

The original goal was to use the website and Twitter account to promote the contest and then share details of how the competition was unfolding. This is exactly what we did, all the way through to the publication of the Assemblathon 1 paper in late 2011. Around this time it seemed to make sense to also use the Twitter account to promote anything else related to the field of genome assembly and that is exactly what I did.

As well as tweeting a lot about Assemblathon 2 and a little bit about the aborted but oh-so-close-to-launching Assemblathon 3, I have found time to tweet (and retweet) several thousand links to many relevant publications and software tools.

It seems that people are finding this useful as the account keeps gaining a steady trickle of followers. The graph below shows data from when I started tracking the follower growth in early 2014:

All of which leaves me to make two concluding remarks:

  1. There can be tremendous utility in having an outlet — such as a Twitter account — to focus on a very niche subject (maybe some would say that genome assembly is no longer a niche field?).
  2. Although I am no longer working on the Assemblathon projects — I'm not even a researcher any more — I'm happy to keep posting to this account as long as people find it useful.

And the award for the most-retweeted-tweet-of-a-photo-of-a-slide-from-a-presentation-of-mine goes to…

On November 20th, on the last day of my employment at UC Davis, I gave an exit seminar. Jenna Gallegos, a PhD student at UC Davis — who works on the awesome Intron-Mediated Enhancement (IME) project under the supervision of Alan Rose — posted several tweets from my talk including this photo of one of my slides:

This tweet continued to generate interest (retweets, likes, and mentions) for most of the 20th November and for many subsequent days afterwards. The latest retweet of this tweet was today: 16 days after the original tweet! I find this amazing especially as the original slide deals with the topic of genome assembly. At the time of writing the tweet has had 369 retweets and 277 likes

I'm pleased that people have found my jigsaw analogy useful. Some people commented that this isn't the best possible analogy and pointed out various ways that it could be more technically accurate (including suggestions of shredding copies of books and trying to piece together the original).

While I accept that this isn't the most scientific way of depicting the many problems and challenges of genome assembly, it is hopefully an accessible way of illustrating the problem. Nearly everyone has tried putting a jigsaw together, but not everyone has tried reconstituting a shredded book. My exit seminar was aimed at a very broad audience and so I pitched this slide accordingly.

People can follow Jenna on twitter (@FoodBeerScience) and should, at the very least, check out her awesome twitter bio. If you want to know more about her work, here is a recent review of IME that she wrote:

Ewan Birney reflects on the use of twitter and blogging for science communication [Link]

Worth reading. Ewan includes some comments regarding the growing use of pre-print platforms:

Blogging is nice, because it is accessible to a broader audience and allows for a more chatty, 'natural language' style – but if the main purpose is to communicate with scientists, pre-publication servers are a better way to go

Ewan singles out arXiv, bioRxiv, and F1000Research, but I think PeerJ are also worth a mention here. They also have their own pre-print server and they also encourage open peer review.

Additionally, I think figshare is another outlet that can be used for dissemination of science material that may not suitable for a peer reviewed publication. One cool thing about using figshare for posting preliminary data or commentary pieces is that articles are allocated a DataCite DOI and can therefore be cited.