I confess that when I first heard about Twitter, I rolled my eyes. The concept seemed to me the ultimate in navel-gazing. Sharing our thoughts via blogs and feeds isn't enough? We need little widgets for zapping out little thought-bulletins so that no writer need wait for the 20-minute chunk of time it takes to write a blog post? Do we really need more undeveloped, spontaneous fragments of one another's thoughts flitting across our screens?
Then came the wildfires, and I became a Twitter convert, just like that. All week, the KPBS Twitter feed has provided the fastest updates on fire and evacuation news. Whoever is manning that feed is doing the work I don't have time to do: listening to scanners, sifting through the TV and government-agency reports, compiling all the bits and pieces of information so crucial during an event like this—and getting that info out to the public as fast as it comes in.
This is practical information, not commentary or reflection. It's topical, timely, a sort of 21st-century twist on the old phone tree."
Tower 23 in Pacific Beach is offering 12 hotel rooms to evacuees for the next 2 nights- call now 858-270-2323," twitters KPBS. If I were looking for a place to stay, this would be just the kind of pertinent, just-the-facts-ma'am information I would need.
Jonathon Mulholland ponders our changing news needs:
We really are approaching a turning point in news dissemination. We want information quicker than traditional media sources can deliver, we want it pushed to us at point of the event, and we want to be able to engage with it as it happens.
I was shocked to realise yesterday that I now consider even traditional web news outlets to be ‘old’ and slow. I was frustrated that I was getting quicker/better updates on the fires from Twitter than from bbc.co.uk/news - and I’m of the generation that would rather look up the news on BBC or CNN than wait till the evening bulletin!
Surely traditional news outlets, and official news suppliers such as government agencies, fire departments etc will start using new/social media services as channels for disseminating official information. A FEMA Twitter account, properly managed, would be a valuable service. Easy for affected citizens to opt in or out of, and a quick fire method for sending advice, updates and warnings.
This week's fire news-watch has me reconsidering my initial dismissal of Twitter's usefulness. I'm still not interested in the kind of breezy, trivial "right now I'm sitting in a Starbuck's about to renew my library books online" kind of Twittering I saw when I first visited the home page. (The text-entry box at Twitter invites you to share with the world "what you are doing" right now.) I mean, enjoy your latte, but honestly I could put the three seconds it took to read that to much better use.
But event- or crisis-Twittering, there's an idea with potential. You can set up your Twitter feed to be public or selected-viewers-only. That means that if there were a family crisis, you could get information out to your loved ones (and only your loved ones) rapidly, easily, instantly.
I'm thinking about other ways this technology could be useful. The "Blogging for a Cure" event, for example. Many of us across the kidlitosphere are posting regular updates with links to each day's Robert's Snow posts, and some bloggers have even set up post-schedules in their sidebar. It's been great, having so much access to the information—but it does mean a lot of us have been duplicating efforts. (And I for one have dropped the ball on many a day.) Is there a way to use Twitter to update with links to each post as it airs? I don't know; I'm just thinking out loud here.
In any case, Twitter is definitely an application with possibilities for good. The KPBS feed has made that quite clear.