Twitter – a first-responder medium

Before I write anything else, let me emphasize that I believe the real news here is a major earthquake. As I write this, the news reports indicate 900 high schools students are trapped beneath rubble. As a parent, I know where my mind and heart are as I read such news.

Admittedly, how the news broke on this story is an extremely esoteric sidebar, however for those who are passionate users and observers of online media and the way in which participants in an event can “broadcast” their observations, the role of Twitter as a form of first responder medium in this tragedy is already being analyzed in the technosphere (good examples: MG Siegler at VentureBeat, The Onlline Journalism Blog and the ubber-blogger/twitterer Robert Scoble) and even by some mainstream media tech-news observers like this quote from the BBC’s blogger, Rory Cellan-Jones:

“Let’s see, as this story unfolds, whether this is the moment when Twitter comes of age as a platform which can bring faster coverage of a major news event than traditional media, while allowing participants and onlookers to share their experiences.

Again, this is a sidebar to a breaking story, but (as I’ve written about for a long time) the folks “playing around” with Twitter are creating something that is not just about “play.” It may remain an “edge” medium — a global police scanner for the news obsessed — but I stand by my predictions that Twitter will become the source people will turn to in the early, confusing moments of breaking news stories. As stories develop, the traditional models of reporting will kick in, but Twitter — because one can post to it via text-message, IM, e-mail, (and via secondary services, voice-to-text, audio, video or photos posted elsewhere can be converted into or alerted via “tweets”) — is a powerful eyewitness and message-relay platform.

And for the record, if I’m ever “inside” a breaking news story, Twitter is where you’ll find me.

Later: Search rock-star Danny Sullivan points out that the US Geological Service had information on its website within three minutes of the first “tweet” on the topic. I don’t think anyone (and certainly not me) has suggested that Twitter is a new “authority” on the news of earthquakes or any disaster. Obviously, news will get disseminated with or without it. That Twitter is even in the food-chain is what’s noteworthy today.