Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Twitter Is The New CNN

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseThe recent Reno air race tragedy was my first experience with what I’ll refer to as the modern way of getting news. I saw the first indication/notification on Facebook by way of a second hand account a very short time after the accident occurred. My first instinct was to go to Google’s news site and do a search. Nothing. It was only later that I thought to go to Twitter and type #reno in the search box. When I did that I instantly got links and observations on what was then a rapidly developing news story. That was when I finally realized that the world on news has changed fundamentally.

That isn’t a new concept for a lot of people. I tend to be a bit slow adapting to new sources of information though. I’m not sure why but it’s a phenomena I’ve observed in myself before.

One thing that occurred to me is that the days of shaping and controlling news stories are going to be over soon unless governments somehow gain control of social media services. That’s going to be a tough thing to do though. The Genie is out of the bottle and I’m not sure it can be put back in. Keep in mind that the original version of Twitter was written in a very short period of time and wouldn’t be difficult to duplicate. This isn’t going to stop some governments from trying of course. China has their “Great Firewall” for instance but even that is of limited effectiveness to sophisticated users. It’s really a speed bump/warning system for people who don’t want to risk getting in trouble with the powers that be.

This isn’t to say that the news that comes through social media isn’t biased. We all see the world through our own personal filters. Those filters color everything and it’s foolish to think otherwise. There are also situations where people have conscious agendas that they are trying to further by way of the reports they make.

The great thing about social media though is that you have the potential to get multiple often raw accounts as well as pictures and video of the actual event. You still have to deal with your own filters but it’s much closer to being a first hand experience than has been possible in the past.

Overall I think this is a good thing though personally I can do without the graphic and often grizzly images that can go along with this new reality.

This whole phenomena leaves traditional news outlets in an uncomfortable position. On the one hand they are vulnerable to new entities that can quickly aggregate and interpret data that they find via Twitter and other social network sources while on the other they are constrained by both their employees understanding of the news and the general publics expectations of what it means to see a story on CNN, NBC, Etc. It's not clear to me that the same skills are needed in both cases.

Disruptive technologies are always hard for established industries and companies to deal with. Print media has been living with this reality for a decade plus. It seems to me that the disruption may just be spreading to other forms of traditional media. The signs are less obvious for now but we may be seeing them over the next couple of years.

Imagine an Internet only news site that depended primarily on social media to break stories. Imagine that they have contacts with reporters all over the world who can quickly get to the site of emerging stories. A smart phone and data plan plus a little skill is all anyone needs these days to be an in the field reporter.

You could have multiple channels/topics with regular updates for very little cost. Would the quality be as good as the majors? No, but from a commercial perspective does it really need to be? And if the costs are low enough you can service a lot of smaller demographics with news of interest and still make money. Time some of the standard social networking tools to the site and you would make the news immersive and collaborative. Google already has many of the pieces they'd need to pull this off.

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