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Whispering tweet nothings

November 25, 2008

War is brewing between the two camps. On one side they are leaping into the unknown with enthusiasm, excitement and open minds. On the other, they are sceptical, cynical and simply refusing to budge.

No, I’m not talking about I’m a Celebrity. I’m not even talking about the pre-Budget report. I’m talking about Twitter, which has divided my City colleagues more than any issue of politics or philosophy has managed to.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows users to post 140-character messages in response to the question “What are you doing?”. Those in the anti-Twitter camp have argued that it’s a pointless gimmick, and one in particular has suggested that shouting out third-person announcements whilst walking down the street would prove more productive. But those in the pro-Twitter camp insist that it’s a useful journalistic tool, an evolutionary step for blogging, and a role model for instantaneous news delivery.

If Facebook‘s $500 million bid for Twitter is anything to go by, social media guru Mark Zuckerberg falls into the latter category. I am joining him, and not only because TwitterBerry has kept me entertained through many a long lecture train journey. I believe that Twitter is a useful utility that adds to, rather than subtracts from, the craft of journalism.

As Mindy McAdams points out, if you follow the right people, they tip you off – whether about an article, an event or a breaking news story. If you follow enough of the right people, therefore, Twitter serves as a personalised news feed which delivers its content in short, sharp, succinct bursts. And according to researchers at Northwestern University, short and tweet is exactly what today’s web wanderers want.

Traditional media outlets are utilising Twitter’s snappy snippets to help them adapt to the net’s shortening news cycle. The BBC’s online coverage of the US election was complimented by Twitter feeds, and yesterday, Channel 4′s newsroom blogger promoted a poll on Twitter to decide what song should accompany pre-Budget report coverage. And if the BBC, Channel 4, Zuckerberg and I aren’t illustrious enough patrons, what about Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and even Britney Spears?

Zuckerberg’s multimillion dollar tweet takeover bid was rejected this week. If I were Twitter’s top dog, I would have torn up his cheque too, but the decision has already set disapproving tongues wagging in the technology press. However, in today’s Daily Telegraph, Claudine Beaumont conceded that:

if they can find a way to turn enthusiasm into cash, Twitter’s decision to remain independent could yet prove to be one of the best it’s ever made.

This cash conversion may already be in the pipeline. Chris Brauer told us yesterday that Twitter’s business plan is based on selling integrated feeds to television news channels, to be beamed around the world via satellite, 24 hours a day. The presenter reading out a stack of e-mails will be superceded by what Brauer called a “swirling discussion” of viewer comments and dynamic breaking news.

Tweet dreams, Facebook.

Get started with “Twitter in Plain English” below and then follow me to Twitter

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2008 11:03 pm

    I have always been very interested by Twitter. As I said in my blog post last month (how cool am I) I don’t think journalists should be afraid of Twitter as it is so adaptable to use to your advantage.

    http://alisonbattisby.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/twitter-who-twitter-what/

  2. emmabarrow permalink
    November 26, 2008 12:00 am

    All this Twitter talk has inspired me to have a go myself…or at least add it to my ‘to do’ list in the hope I get round to it sometime before 2009!

    Love the new design by the way Lara!

  3. studentjournalist permalink
    November 26, 2008 3:24 pm

    For fear of contributing to this discussion and making it even more “TALKED-ABOUT” than it already is, I’d just like to say that I stand in the “sceptical, cynical” camp. I have now signed up, but can’t really think of much to say… Maybe my life is just too boring

  4. November 26, 2008 11:49 pm

    Etan, Twitter isn’t about what you have to say… it’s about what the people you’re following have to say! The first I heard of tonight’s attacks in Mumbai was via Twitter, some time before news outlets here started reporting it. Even now, you only need to look here and here to realise the incredible news value these kinds of service have during major world events.

    Emma, glad you like the new design! Hope to see you on Twitter soon!

  5. studentjournalist permalink
    November 27, 2008 7:50 am

    That’s an interesting point of view Lara. But wouldn’t that be a bit selfish of me? Wouldn’t I be ostracised by the Twitter community for taking and not giving back :)

  6. November 27, 2008 8:50 am

    I am still finding my feet in the the world of twitter. I was extremely sceptical at first, seeing it as self-indulgent and to be honest a bit pointless. I didn’t really ‘get it’. Now I’ve seen it in action I understand it a bit more, and can definitely see its uses but like Etan, I am finding myself at a bit of a loss when it comes to tweeting myself…(if that is the right terminology!)

  7. November 29, 2008 4:43 pm

    In addition to being a good news sources and showing you what people are doing, Twitter is also about the conversations. Sometimes it’s just a back-and-forth argument, but a lot of times there are very insightful discussions.

    For example, a recent Twitter discussion about journalism education.

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