Faster than a Speeding Bullet
…In fact, significantly faster.
I recently* returned from a vacation in Maui and though I’m not all that happy to be back, I’m lucky to have gotten there at all. You see, we were due to fly out on Thursday 4th March, 6 days after the devastating earthquake that shook Chile and sent a massive surge towards Hawaii.
On Saturday 27th February, I woke early for my morning run and checked the news in the UK. Being 8 hours ahead, the day was in full swing there and reports were filing in of the terrible disaster in Chile although, at that time, the range of the earthquake and death toll was unknown. The reports mentioned a resulting tsunami emanating out from that Chilean epicentre and the effect it was having on local Pacific islands. While I was running, I realised that that’s exactly what Hawaii was, an atoll of tiny Pacific islands.
While potentially ruined holiday plans pale in comparison to natural catastrophe, I would be lying if I said I didn’t also think about the effect on my vacation. Questions like “am I going to get a holiday?”, “will insurance cover an Act of God?”, and “what’s going to happen to the beautiful islands?” raced through my mind. I had only visited Maui once before but wondered what the effect would be on it’s beauty and economy, if a powerful wave pounded the shore.
In the past I would have had to wait for over 24 hours for the next round of traditional news updates to maybe answer some of those question but not now. With Twitter, I have an integrated, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth news feed in my phone. By simply creating a Twitter list for “hawaii tsunami”, I received minute by minute updates until that afternoon when I found out that the Hawaiian islands had “dodged a bullet”.
What really struck me about this event was how prominent Twitter was in reporting the news. It seems like most people relied on it. In fact, so confident were the people of Maui that Twitter would provide immediate information, that the local paper, MauiTime, reports that people (including the paper’s reporters) went to the beach knowing that they would have enough time to evacuate if they received warning tweets from Hilo, the first Hawaiian point of contact for the Tsunami.
It’s not the first time that Twitter has been at the forefront of news delivery. When Iran shut down the media during it’s elections, Twitter became the method by which we received news of the human rights violations. News of the earthquake in Haiti was tweeted around the world by before the big media houses could get the key in the ignition. Twitter is quickly becoming the go-to place for news about major, unplanned, events and the big media houses are not afraid of trusting tweets to try to keep an edge.
That brings up a question. How do you filter out the crap? To take my personal experience as an example, even though I had a “hawaii tsunami” list, I still had to wade through old reports (anything over 3 minutes), major errors, and crank-pots out on a wind-up before I got to information that I felt was new and believed was accurate. So what are the criteria that lead you to trust a tweet?
- Links – if it brings up a credible web page (not CNN), I’m likely to trust future tweets from you.
- Language – Even speaking twitsperanto it’s possible to convey something about your intelligence. If you come across as an ignorant doofus, chances are your tweet will get filtered out.
- Timeliness – If the tweet adds something not previously known, you’ll pay attention.
- Trust (friends, those in authority) – these guys have your trust already so you’ll take what they say as gospel.
As Twitter users increase, the number of tweets to wade through is going to grow, and applying the criteria above is going to become a harder and harder task. Twitter may be faster than a speeding bullet, but disseminating the information could slow it right down to coach speed.
*it was recent when I started writing this blog post.