A note on this blogs format - I will not hide my drafts until they are ready. All my writing will be displayed as soon as it's down in bits and bytes. Posts will be labeled Draft and Final according to my view on the topic.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008



Twitter is a mobile social web application designed to allow the efficient sharing of micro-thoughts in 140 character bursts.  In normal times people use Twitter to answer some very basic questions:
  • What are you doing now?
  • What are you thinking now?
  • What's got you puzzled/troubled?
  • Where can I find homemade bagel bites in the East Village at 3 a.m on Thanksgiving?
One of the emerging focuses, particularly after the Mumbai terror attacks, is on the disaster or crisis applications of a service like Twitter. (Follow all the links in this post at Weblosky for a brief survey of the mixed opinions of Twitter's efficacy during crisis.  Those opinions range from (paraphrased)
  1. "Of course distributed citizenry should be contributing on-scene reportage- it works! We rule!"
  2. "There's an unhealthy signal to noise ratio coming out of the scene but Twitter helps because it usually self-corrects pretty darn quickly"
  3. "Dirty Fucking Hippies - Leave the reporting to the pro's and go back to your commune"
As you might be able to tell, I disagree with the third way. I see no practical reason to ignore the large portion of the population that is on scene and reporting an incident, even if they might be wrong. I want to know what people are thinking, especially if they are wrong. Twitter is a tool where, if a public safety agency was quick and smart enough, they could correct public misconception quickly and relatively painless without relying the market penetration of traditional mass media. After all, who's going to go throw on a noisy TV or Radio when there's a mass murderers appearing out of no where and shooting into a crowd?

I also disagree with the first of these reactions, but only to a degree. I love the idea of an informed citizenry exercising their right to communicate in normal times but even more so during times of stress.  And so my support must go to the opinion smack dab in the middle at number two. There's a saying I've heard many times that, even through "official" channels that 90% of the information coming in the first couple hours from the scene of a large incident is gunk anyway.  All I want in the first few minutes, hours, of an incident is to know that there is buzz in the citizenry and that, yes, something is happening, stay alert.

Stay alert. That's half the battle right there.

Once people have been alerted to an incident, Twitter's quick iterative fact checking will win the day. These distributed information loops will be particularly effective with that enterprising public safety agency, calling LAFD/and halfheartedly LAPD, interjecting "official" news to aid the acceleration of correct information throughout the social network. 

The ideal Twitter-like tool would have to be location aware and be hosted on broadcasting mobile devices to be able to create low/no official network ad-hoc wireless mesh....but that's a post for another day.

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