Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Twitter, Google, Patrick Swayze, Judge Sotomayor, and Proposition 8

This story was in the news last week:

Google 'falling behind Twitter' (U.K. Guardian)

I can't see why that's an issue - I wrote a few weeks ago about how Twitter has been grossly over-hyped as a "breaking news" service. Google is also just a tool for finding web pages and anyone who thinks it's the way to find the latest "in the past five minutes" news is clueless about how it works - if a story breaks, go to Cnn.Com or wherever and read the latest or, yes, turn on the radio or TV. Most of the "news" that anybody posts on Twitter anyway are links to and comments about stuff they've read on different web sites; I still am unconvinced that there's ever been any real substantive "on the scene" reporting provided via Twitter. I saw references to live tweeting from the Mumbai, India attacks last November, but haven't seen examples of anything besides people tweeting about what they're seeing on the web or TV about those attacks or about any other breaking news story. ("MSNBC say blah blah blah...")

The other big Twitter story last week was this:

Publicist denies Patrick Swayze death rumors (Reuters)

Today's Twitter Hysteria Says Patrick Swayze Has Died; He Didn't (Gawker.Com)

Twitter is thus like the web in general, but faster and even more idiot-friendly: anyone can post anything and do something like really make life even worse for Mr. Swayze and family. As far as I can tell, there isn't any "rating" or way to indicate a Tweeter is reliable or a spammer/prankster/whatever.

I guess if you follow the Twitter feed for a reporter or news organization, you can rely on their information as much as you rely on their information in any other forum, but if something is so important that it needs to get out to as big an audience as possible will a reporter tweet it or call the office or newsdesk? I remember reading about a local TV reporter who was blocks away from the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City when it was bombed. She called up the newsroom and was put on the air live to describe what she had seen. If Twitter was around then, would she have bothered texted 140 letters on what had happened instead of calling in and going live via cell phone?

And NOW - May 26th - with the announcement that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, we have another perfect petri dish experiment to see how Twitter works with "breaking news", though there's little actual news as Sotomayor's history and record on the bench has pretty much already been thoroughly examined since she has been a front-runner since Souter retired.

As of 11:00am CST today, there's about 100-120 Tweets per minute ("TPM"?) when you search for "Sotomayor" (and about 15-20 TPMs for "Sotomayer" as I and many other people have misspelled her name today). That's way too many to look at and, like with the initial round of swine flu hysteria, 98+ percent or so of them are either zero content statements or are links and comments about the same dozen or so news stories that anyone following the "breaking story" will have already seen. So of the MAYBE 1-2% of the Tweets that may have useful original content or link to the latest stories, its unlikely you'll see them while trying to keep up with the two Tweets every second that are being posted. And because the most important news stories will be both re-tweeted and tweeted about by others, you'll eventually see them. Whether watching a Twitter search feed instead of just scanning the major news web sites yourself is more efficient is, to me, still up in the air. But I'm convinced that when hot news is breaking, Twitter is most useful as a media aggregator and not as a place to find useful, original reporting.

And - just as I was writing this - the other big legal story of the day broke: the California Supreme Court upheld both Proposition 8 and all the same-sex marriages that were performed before Prop 8 was passed. The court had said they would hand down their decision at 10:00am local time, so I was watching the #prop8 hash tag search feed on Twitter while the CBS radio news was live with their reporter at the court. The radio reported the story a good 2-3 minutes before anyone mentioned the decision on Twitter via that hash tag.

No comments: