“I do not see the lasting value of Twitter,” he explained later. “I do not see that a large number of people will find a large amount of value in spending a lot of time looking at a lot of tweets.”

Siegfried also said it’s unclear where online science journalism is headed, adding that “a lot of what’s going on doesn’t have a lot to do with journalism. It has to do with technology or style. Getting news reported well is being subordinated to a concern with technology.”

Gillmor, on the other hand, is the voice of optimism and enthusiasm about the future of digital media, calling the current situation—with its declining print ad revenues, closing newspapers, and burgeoning online news outlets—a phase of “creative destruction.”

“But we’re also in an amazingly constructive phase,” he said during a talk. “We’re in a period that maybe we should call ‘messy’… but I’m so sure that we’re going to come up with something wonderful that I don’t worry about it anymore.”

One innovative new Twitter tool that Purdue University researchers unveiled earlier this month was made available for use at ScienceWriters 2009. Designed to help make sense of the wave of Twitter traffic at a meeting or conferenc, a new site called Need4Feed sorts through the tweets at a meeting and builds a popularity ranking to identify those with the broadest appeal. Developer Kyle Bowen, director of informatics at Purdue, said in a university press release that “Need4Feed lets conference goers sift through the noise to find the important things being said.”

The Purdue site showed that, as of last night, science writers tweeted almost 1,700 times about the Austin conference, with NCI’s Wang in the lead (164). The most popular links shared were a social media graphic and an animated U.S. map showing fossil fuels carbon dioxide emissions that was a hit on YouTube. One of the most popular overall was a compliment from keynote speaker Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor): “Want to talk with an intelligent audience? Try science writers… wow.”

But lest you think that science writers are too high-minded, it’s good to keep in mind that the most popular Sunday night re-tweets focused on where to get great Indian food in Austin (try the Clay Pit) or draft beer (how about the Ginger Man pub on Lavaca?). Science writers, after all, still have those key journalistic instincts for a good story, a good meal and a good watering hole.

Editor’s Note: To follow the Twitter stream from the ScienceWriters 2009 meeting, go to Twitter and type in hashtag #sciwri09. The authors’ Twitter feeds can be found at @robinlloyd99 and @russellcris. To get more information about the live streaming video from the New Horizons meeting, go to casw.org (it will be archived in the near future). Lloyd and Russell helped organize sessions at the science writers’ workshops on social media; Russell is also CASW president.

[Clarification: This post was changed to reflect the fact that 30 percent of the Wired Science blog’s social media traffic - not total traffic - comes from Digg and another 30 percent comes from StumbleUpon.com.]

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Robin Lloyd and Cristine Russell are freelance science writers. Lloyd is currently on contract as the online editor for Scientific American and was previously a senior editor at LiveScience.com and SPACE.com. Russell is a CJR contributing editor, president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.