Is Twitter the News System of the Future?


I was probably the first person to write that Twitter is the modern TV back in April. It is increasingly the place where you watch what other people say they do. Some of them are paid at work to be there, others are sponsored. Organizations and brands are keen on paying to talk in the stream — Twitter ads launched this past April.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, said that its first few months had gone well and the company was now looking to localise its advertising offering via its promoted tweets. More recently, Twitter started selling its data and providing analytics.

Twitter is already a news service

Remember the Hudson River plane landing? The attacks in Mumbai? How about the California and Haiti earthquakes? Twitter is great for short news alerts, as long as we do keep vigilant about red herrings. Biz Stone recently said to Reuters:

"I think a Twitter News Service would be something that would be very open and shared with many different news organizations around the world."

During the Fort Hood shootings, interested citizens and locals, then mainstream media publications, showed how Twitter lists can be used for breaking news and to deliver information about what is happening at the scene.

In fact, I like that news sources and data points can be corrected in real time by people who are closest to where the incident is taking place. Citizens and locals reporting what is happening, especially when taping the events, or taking images on the scene, are probably to be trusted more than journalists who may not have the resources to verify a story days later.

There is another issue at play. You don't have to look very far to see propaganda at work in news reporting. Is it too much to expect journalists (should we call a columnist a journalist?) to base their writing on facts? asks K Gill on her blog, where she proceeds to compile a list of rebuttals to news coverage that basically tells people to "just grow up".

In a comment to Jay Rosen's list, Rich Becker writes: I wish journalists would be as concerned about the fourth amendment as they want everyone to be about the first. Curation of news reporting alone can be a valuable service in a sea of information. For example, I started a list of the main reports and links to follow current air travel issues on FriendFeed.

There are still a few improvements that I'd like to see on Twitter to become even more useful for news consumption:

  • better speed and reliability (both still an issue)
  • a more powerful search feature to identify industries/interests
  • better ways to create lists for filtering content (than manually)
  • bulk subscriber management options (so basic — why can't I search and select my own followers?)
  • some sort of Inbox sanity for DMs (no spam filters — really?)
  • anything location-based that you don't need to be a programmer to figure out
  • the ability to control the experience of my business profile (portability and design will also set Twitter apart from the rigid Facebook)

We go on Twitter to find out what is going on or to report what we see and experience more than we're aware of doing. The immediacy of the tool an the instant nature of potential connections and support, along with how easily we can post to the stream, make it very suitable for this use.

Is Twitter the news system of the future, or is it already there?


If you enjoyed this post from Conversation Agent, subscribe, share and like it.

0 responses to “Is Twitter the News System of the Future?”

  1. Twitter is an uncontrolled, high pressure information tsumani that contains both good content and useless, dangerous, time-wasting debris.
    Until we decide to design intelligent and adaptive filters to purify, distill and organize that information tsunami twitter will not be highly useful.
    People are already losing patience with the Twitter tsunami.

  2. Twitter already serves me as my news system. Reviewing TweetDeck over breakfast has replaced many years of using home delivered newspaper as my news system. Why do I prefer it? Because I get news on the topics that I’m really interested in. I get news and views from the many sources that I’ve placed my trust in and I’m getting up to the minute news.
    Another example of the trust I place in Twitter as a news service came just yesterday. Summer in Australia comes with the threat of bushfires. With a strong smell of smoke in the Sydney air it was Twitter that put my mind at rest that this was a controlled burn. Official tweets from the NSW Bushfire Service as well as tweets from friends served as a reliable and timely news system.

  3. “Until we decide to design intelligent and adaptive filters to purify, distill and organize that information…”
    We have one of those already: it’s called a brain. Personal discrimination about whom you follow — and why — along with an ongoing re-evaluation of that list, will be much more satisfactory and reliable than any algorithm.

  4. @Lalo Telling – Just a little food for thought. Lots of people use twitter as a place to find a community of like-minded people on a niche topic. Sometimes that means following many people within that niche. I notice that there are mommy communities, law, coffee, tea, Disney, Starbucks (actually quite huge! ;)), foodies, knitters, sports related, and so on and so forth.
    And so of course you can discriminate who you might follow, for the person who is using twitter to be SOCIAL – That is connect with other conversationlists, and even connect with a group with a common interests, the news tweets will get lost in a stream of other things.
    I know that I constantly look at scaling back how many I follow, but most I just don’t want to unfollow people: Perhaps I’m just gabby and social.
    Absent being the kind of person who wants to follow very few, and hope that people will still follow them (and let’s be honest, most people can’t get away with that. Some can, but most cannot) what is needed IS more filters and better searchability just exactly as Valeria suggested.
    Call me silly, but I don’t even see a way to search my own tweets. I was doing research this morning on changes to Domestic Violence laws in Washington State, and I know I tweeted about this in June or July this year with a link to the pdf where the final changes were made. I couldn’t find it. The twitter search engine needs some improvement.
    I understand your point and I don’t want to argue with you: Many people do use twitter just as you suggest, but that style is not for everyone. Besides what about those profiles where people follow 30K and have 30K followers … That has always confused me a little.
    Take care, Melody

  5. Twitter has definitely got the potential to become a news system of choice. The news is given in a more general way by “mainstream media” and then it’s updated and “localized” bit by bit by people closest to it, putting people at the center of not just generic information, but specific localized news events as well.
    The changes you suggest are very meaningful, and they’d be much needed overall. Especially a better handling of DMs, which right now are relegated as simple auto-spam greeters or “thankers” that annoy us more and more everyday.

  6. @Roger – I agree that it needs filters. I wrote *system* and not “channel” for that reason. The use of the term purify in this context is a bit scary. You already have control over who you follow and what you read/believe.
    @Umberto – I use it as an early alert system, to then do deeper dives elsewhere (they include newspapers in many languages, and radio, believe it or not). And yes, official streams of bodies like the CDC, fire departments, and so on, are a tremendous public service.
    @Lalo – I’m a big believer in critical thinking and in personal accountability. We should do our homework on news, and information.
    @Melody – using lists is helpful to filter content, for example. As is forming groups of people or streams one follows more closely. I often look more closely @ replies and DMs or specific search terms I stream.
    @Gabriele – you forget pitches by DM. I get many of those, only once, though 😉 Putting people at the center to see what they see, and then verify it with other means. It may be a bit more work, but we do have many more tools at our fingertips today.

  7. It’s intriguing you link to Dick Costolo’s interview yet he admits *HE* doesn’t know Twitter’s long-term vision. I surely don’t.
    News system? That implies broadcasting. And I don’t want to be broadcasted at.

  8. Valeria,
    Twitter as a true/valid news feed is an interesting idea that can work if one critical component of Twitter can be fixed: verification of facts.
    The “Branded” news-oriented Twitter accounts already do a good job of providing links to news stories that have some sense of journalist fact checking, but for the majority of users looking through the random stream of tweets, knowing who to trust (or building/curating your own circle of trust) can be an overwhelming experience.
    Like you, I’ve come to use Twitter in a more self-directed manner, creating my own lists, using it as a spark to investigate a particular story or event, and learning (the hard way) which sources are reliable. I also use it to sample crowd sentiment or get real-time updates on particular events as they happen in real-time.
    But while I really liked your notion that “data points can be corrected in real time by people who are closest to where the incident is taking place”, I’m also very aware that perspectives and agendas vary considerably from person to person, and have seen my share of inaccurate information tweeted from various sources.
    Until Twitter (and the user community) can find a way to improve the quality/fact-checked level of information (read that as trust), I’ll continue to use it as more of a daily news supplement than a true news feed.
    Thanks for bringing this issue up – it is one which needs a great deal of further discussion.

  9. @Ari – interesting interpretation of my words “find out what is going on or to report what we see and experience more than we’re aware of doing” what else do you do on Twitter, pray teach us?
    @Fred – thank you also for the quick exchange on Twitter today. I enjoy a smart conversation. You are correct about “have some sense of journalist fact checking”, it was Christiane Amanpour who lamented how news organizations have done away with reporting a few years ago. Building anything takes work. We are lucky that there are passionate people who are doing this work for the benefit of the community quite often, actually. Wikipedia, Twitter lists of several people, content aggregation and curation in blog posts, often providing some food for context… some of us are not trained journalists, however, we are trained and experienced corporate communicators, marketers, strategists, etc. – people who can think and discern information. I don’t know exactly what people do in school here in the US, they taught us to think critically in Italy, question reality, find sources and data… is that not what journalists do? One of the best I met was a former English teacher, another one a researcher. And imagine when people can now capture video and audio footage and post it raw, without the “positioning” or “enhancements” to protect your sensibility (and the tail of some official). Plus, to me it’s in addition to, not as a substitution, even though newspapers and mainstream media will continue to adapt and change (aren’t many news orgs owned by private corporations?).

  10. Valeria, By “purify” I meant the main denoted meaning of the word relative to removing spam. I was referring to any connotation relative to politically motivated content blocking or other nefarious content removal.

  11. Valeria – interesting points, all. But I have to question the idea of tweeps vetting one another or issuing corrections based on being on the scene; IMHO, that is where twitter and other citizen journalism continues to falls short. You point out that journalists don’t have time or resources to verify their stories a day later. But who’s verifying the citizen journalist? Again, without proper guidelines and a foundation to direct efforts, it’s almost impossible to accurately determine what’s true, what’s subjective and what is driven by private interests. Although the same could be argued about media these days, I maintain that it is within some (not all) journalists’ interests to start from a place of integrity. It’s when business and personal interests get in the way that it all goes to shit.
    I’m open to the idea but remain cynical about the ideal, if that makes sense.

  12. One of the downsides of expressing your opinion on social media like Twitter and blogs like this is you will also stir things up – even upset people in a big way. From a reader perspective – you lost all credibility by opening your article with a ridiculous statement that you were a thought leader on Twitter – first to mention in April of 2010 – (so funny it’s beyond ludicrous) discussing a concept that is years old. On a product adoption curve Twitter is blown through the innovator (they moved on in 2008), early adopter (2009) and probably leaving the early majority (2010) stage now. This isn’t a measurable science – there is more opinion out there though it is already into the maturity stage of its development.
    So for someone to think they are expressing a new thought about Twitter at this stage is pretty lame and ridiculous. How about an honest conversation – that you are late to the game on Twitter and have a mainstream view – certainly not thought leading or innovative!
    The conversation of how more current Twitter is than google, news feeds etc is years old – with thousands upon thousands of mentions about this use of twitter long before your April 2010 post.
    Valeria – Get real

  13. Or, you could have checked when I started on Twitter — easy enough to do — look, October 2007. Holy cow! Does that mean I was before innovators? And yes, this is my opinion on my blog, thank you very much.
    How about we use our real name and email address, in the spirit of real conversation? The IP does give people away… “Gina”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *