Friday, May 9, 2008

Is twitter breaking news faster than news organizations?

That's the question posed by none other than Reuters this week:
At about 1:37 pm, software developer Dave Winer asked the Twitterverse: “Explosion in Falls Church, VA?” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Winer is a well-known blogger and podcasting evangelist). A flurry of posts, or “tweets,” followed, as users reported rumbles as far away as Alexandria.

The mainstream media entered the fray at 2:33 pm, with radio station WTOP reporting ground rumblings throughout Northern Virginia, citing a possible earthquake

That's almost an hour between the initial post and an actual news report--a pretty staggering example.

It also, however, lays bare the big problem with Twitter right now: There's no discovery mechanism built into it, so how the hell do you find this stuff in any way but after the fact? After all, if a tree falls in the forest (or an earthquake happens in Virginia), and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does, the same as these earthquake tweets, but unless you're friends with someone who's there when news hits, you'd never know.

It's all well and good to champion the curiously useful technology that Twitter offers, but it's not going to truly break through until there's a mechanism in place for discovering important tweets or newsbreaking users. Currently the only way to do something like that (through a third-party Twitter search) keeps far too much noise in to get the actual signal through.