Friday, 16 January 2009

Twitter and News

The day before last I was showing my students Twitter, the micro blogging service. If you imagine the 'what am I up to?' part of a Facebook profile then you'll pretty much get what Twitter is.

In effect, it's short bursts of information about what someone is doing. The problem with it is that what a user tends to receive is an unadulterated stream of information without context or any easy means of verifying facts.

This has been the main issue regarding its use as a news tool. The terror attacks in Mumbai late last year were heralded as proof of Twitter coming of age, as a news feed from so called citizen journalists. However, a number of claims made during that event by Twitter posters turned out to be false.

The benefit of Twitter, when it comes to News and audiences, is the speed with which headlines can be conveyed.

Most of my students found themselves being driven to distraction within a few minutes of using the service. They couldn't see what the point was. 

However, with remarkable timing, yesterday's miraculous ditching of a plane in New York's Hudson river showed the power of instant audience-led news feeds.

A man by the name of Janis Krums was on a ferry when the plane came down. As he watched the incredible event unfold he posted a line to Twitter - 'There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.'

As he had an Apple iPhone he also took a photo, and posted that to Twitpic, a service that adds imaging functionality. As you can see, it's an atmospheric photo, made all the more impressive by the fact it was taken on a 2 megapixel camera.

Within minutes his photo was being shared around the world, while traditional broadcast news outlets were still organising themselves to get down to the crash site.

At the time of writing the photo has been viewed 252,583 times! 

So, maybe Twitter is showing a new paradigm for news gathering and sharing, in which anyone can be a headline breaker. Just don't expect what you get to always be trustworthy, relevant, or reliable.