Twits, communities and the question of the source

Twitter is a really interesting little service, one which somewhat inexplicably captured my attention and hasn’t let go of it for more than a year. (This is my account but leave your expectations in the lobby.)

One particular reason I’m interested in it is that Twitter, and similar micro-blogging services such as Jaiku seem to be a place where exposure to “unplanned and unwanted experience”,  so important to Sunstein, abounds. Often, people follow the updates of several thousand fellow Twitterers, or just check out the public timeline or Twittervision, to take a(n admittedly very limited and brief) glimpse of “what’s going on all over the world.” Given the brevity of messages and the overall format, casually reading Twitter is like catching a few words from thousands of conversations while wandering about in a busy and packed street. And if something interesting catches your ear, you immediately can investigate it further, reply to the sender of the message, or click on the link they provided.

But even if you choose not to interact, the mere act of listening might make you feel connected, on some level, to the senders of these little messages. I’m having a hard time putting this into words. Sure, it would be probably mistaken to speak of a community of twitterers (although members of a smaller community might also choose to communicate with each other on Twitter); but I always feel that simply realizing how much is going on right now in different parts of this vast world, and getting very private, sometimes intimate insights about all this “everything” helps putting things into context. It makes me feel very international, and in a way part of the largest ever possible community.

Oh, big words. Sorry if you found this too cheesy. But I really do suggest you try Twittervision.

Anyway; I’ve wanted to mention Twitter here for some time, and now I have an excuse: Andrew Keen’s blogpost about Twitter; from his usual point of view (i.e. community-made content, or the contribution of enthusiastic (well, keen) “amateurs” is a highly unwelcome phenomenon). The post is really interesting, for it gives a clear picture of Keen not really understanding Twitter at all – as one of the comments aptly points it out. There is one point in another comment which I’d also like to stress.

But the inaccurate Iran plane story wasn’t broken by Twitter, it was broken by the traditional media – reported by a local news agency, then picked up and disseminated through conventional broadcast channels. The clue is in the bit where Calcanis says “Just heard on France24 hour news”, which is pretty clear as far as stating your sources goes. Calcanis wasn’t Our Man in Tehran, nor was he claiming to be. Our Man in Tehran was, in fact, a man in Tehran.

This is the rub. Whenever it comes to social (or “produser”) media, you always have to be mindful of the original sources. As I argued, a significant portion of what is shoved under the umbrella term of new media is in fact some kind of secondary processing (comment, filter, analysis…) of first-hand news that originates at a professional news organization – because it is the professional news organizations that objectively have the faculties to produce first-hand news (especially first-hand international news). This secondary treatment is of course very important, and probably in a position to produce better, more accurate and more biased news output – but it is probably far less revolutionary than it is fashionable to think.

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