Two days after my complaint that I've lost 30-odd followers (now restored) on Twitter, who were briefly denied finding out that I'd just had a latte or was busy so didn't have time to say anything other than a brief update, the microblogging service once again shows its worth. Earlier today a series of bombs went off in Bangalore in India. Not that you'd know from the major news sites, most of whom relegated it so far down their websites that, after the event broke, it was difficult to find anything about it.
But Twitter was alive with chatter about the event. I was tied up with work but had half an eye on my feed and every few minutes somebody was Tweeting about the explosion and, most commonly linking tothe feed of Mukund Mohan, a technology entrepreneur.
One of those was Daniel Bennett, who's posted Mukand's updates on his blog, along with some good analysis and issues surrounding both the Twittering and newsgathering implications.
Firstly, the journalism aspect. Yet again, Twitter was the place to be for breaking updates and, if you used Twitter search plus other social media search tools, as a journalist you could have a pretty good picture of what was happening out in Bangalore.
But what of the reliability of one person's account. Daniel addresses this:
"This demonstrates how the facts in a breaking news situation are constantly being updated, changed and re-evaluated. Sceptics might wonder about the value of reporting these ‘facts’, before they have been confirmed.
But this is no different from the 24 hour news channels coverage of live news and many of the breaking news articles that appear on the web."
His point is valid. Think of the London 7/7 bombings, for example. There were plenty of 'facts' or breaking news reported that day which turned out to be inaccurate.
It's not hard to cross-reference what you're picking up via forums, Tweets and blogs for breaking news. During my analysis of the Exeter bomb blast plenty of patterns began to emerge and if more than three people were saying similar things, there was a fair chance what they were saying was reasonably accurate (or as accurate as you can get in this kind of situations). It's not hard to rinse your search results and work out who the best sources are. Journalistically, I don't see this being a problem, although it won't hurt to seek confirmation from other sources.
The other concern that was raised was Twitter hypes hysteria around smaller events (in this case the archtypal media story - small bomb: not many dead).
Firstly, I'd imagine that if you've been caught up in an explosion, no matter how minor, and you're Twittering, it'll be a pretty big deal. We're not all battle-hardened reporting veterans who can survey the carnage, file a sober report, then down out the sights we've seen with whiskey at the hotel bar.
Secondly, it's useful for other local Twitterers. If I started seeing messages that the tubes were down in, say, West London due to an unspecified incident, Twitter would be a decent place to start to find out what was happening. The more serious the event (and bombs going off are still a pretty big deal), the more valuable this could be. It's not hyperbolic to say that, in certain situations, Twitter could potentially save lives.
The microblogging site shouldn't be taken in isolation, naturally, but once again it's proved that when it comes to breaking news there's nothing to beat it at the moment. Not even Sky News's helicopter.