How Twitter became the biggest thing in news–and is getting even bigger

Twitter started as a way for the always-connected crowd to share with their friends the kind of latte they were having and just what Starbucks location they were at. Who gives a rat’s behind? So I fearlessly predicted that Twitter would soon tweet into the sunset.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Four years ago, January 2009, a tourist from Florida on a ferry in the Hudson sent a tweet heard around the news world. And the rest is history. News history, and therefore crisis communication history.

Twitter, and I others soon started preaching, was the new police scanner. It was how the news media got the news and tried to beat everyone else to the punch. More than that, it became a broadcast channel in its own right, with millions using it to find the absolutely latest and virtually any and all subjects.

From a media relations and crisis communication standpoint, Twitter has become essential. ESSENTIAL. While many still pooh-pooh the direct communication aspect with citizens, who can argue that with the media using it for searching and reporting the latest that it is essential even if all your focus is on the media? I’ve long promoted the importance of Twitter over Facebook this way, and Jim Garrow and I recently have been having a bit of discussion about that.

Now comes some interesting news that suggests that Twitter is starting to really get that they are a news channel, and not mostly a latte-sharing channel. Twitter is beefing up its algorithm for search by adding an unusual element: humans. Yes, real live people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, are supplementing the algorithms to provide context. The ReadWrite story tells the details and just what this means.

Here’s the relevance for those of us in the crisis and emergency communication business:

- Monitoring using Twitter just got easier. Those humans are going to make it considerably easier to find the needles in the haystack.

- Growing use for situation awareness. The primary problem for using UGC (user generated content) is the noise to signal ratio. So much noise, so little of value, and how do you separate them?

- Primary media management. The enhanced search will likely mean the media will find Twitter an even more useful tool for reporting.

- Media Schmedia. On other hand, if they don’t will the world care? That’s the real point. This step by Twitter is a big step forward in making traditional media even more obsolete. The ReadWrite headline “”Watch Out CNN” may be overstating it, but perhaps not. I’ve long used Breaking News on Twitter as a primary way of keeping up. I’m suspecting this change will mean Twitter itself is the way to keep up.

Now that I’ve admitted to being so wrong about Twitter and declaring how essential it is to today’s communications, I’ve probably put in motion their demise. Who knows what comes tomorrow. But how can instant be faster?

 

One thought on “How Twitter became the biggest thing in news–and is getting even bigger”

  1. As always, Gerald, great insight. I also, couldn’t agree more about the utility of the Mechanical Turk. Years ago, there was a Twitter app called Brizzly that did something similar. While the app posted the trending topics automatically, users of the system could free-type and describe what the trending topics were and (what I found most useful) why it was trending. (Consider, for example, a trending topic of Newtown Connecticut. If the description is a small town in CT, that’s not so helpful. But with human beings describing what happened, it became infinitely more useful and helped guide my searches.)

    This is a sea-change, and while I’m sure we’ll see all types of system gaming very quickly, it has the potential to remake how we monitor situations.

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