Brij Singh's Blog

May 6, 2008

Breaking news using Twitter. From Reuters to Reuwitters.

Filed under: Tech — Brij @ 7:45 pm

Still remember the day when I was telling folks how Twitter will one day do the job of Reuters. Looks like we are getting closer to that possibility. Adam Pasick, not surprisingly on Reuter blog,  is using this little incident to illustrate how Twitter is now the starting point for lot of breaking news:


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. Officials also told the radio station that the rumblings were part of construction blasts at nearby Ft. Belvoir, which had been scheduled for later in the afternoon as part of a new building for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Twitter users continued to pile on, pointing out data from the Maryland Geological Survey and adding their own commentary. Twitterer DataG wrote: “After the ‘Falls Church explosion’ event that was covered on Twitter, I saw the value in having a Twitter account at-the-ready.”

To me this is just the beginning. Real big deal is in tying this 140-character  breaking news tweet into self-correcting, self-propagating news channel.

Think about all the nice little tools developed around Twitter ecosystem (including MessageDance :) ). What if some of those tools collaborate on news alert, news validation, correction, updates, orchestration with organizations impacted by this news etc. It's not that difficult to build as most of the pieces are already in place. For the first time we have a real possibility of truly open newswire, which can be automated to a great extent and which can leverage plenty of crowdsourcing tools available out there.

For example in Adam's example, there can be tools which can periodically scan Twitter feeds to automatically figure out what kind of explosion this was? If oil tanker exploded then send alerts to Oil hazard related agencies so and so forth.

Possibilities!

Update: It’s a sad day as thousands of people are dead in huge Earthquake in China. My condolences to those affected by this natural tragedy. There is not much we can do in the face of natural disasters. Technology can help in recovery process. That’s where I believe Twitter has a big role to play. Since I made this post, few people complained that Twitter is all hype and can never be a serious news breaking platform. This tragic incidence proves that Twitter can be used an universal helpline.

Scoble and Danny Sullivan both cover this development and have verified that Twitter was indeed used as a primary news distribution outlet for this tragic news. If lives can be repaired with one extra tool then let’s help spread that idea. Scoble did an outstanding job in tirelessly evangelizing this.

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