A minor flurry erupted in the blogosphere today, after Twitter co-founder Biz Stone mused during a Reuters interview about creating a “Twitter News Service,” which he described as a kind of partnership with major news organizations to extract news from the millions of tweets carried by the micro-blogging network daily. A spokesperson for Twitter later posted a message saying the company “no plans for a Twitter news network” and that Stone was simply thinking out loud.
Twitter staffer Matt Graves’ response was closer to the point, however; he said the company was not thinking about creating such a news service because “it already exists — it’s called Twitter.” In other words, Twitter is already functioning as a news network or wire service, something we’ve pointed out a number of times. When you can get live reports from eyewitnesses of earthquakes and other disasters within minutes of them happening, you have a news network (as Biz himself has noted in the past).
That said, however, there is something interesting in what Stone seemed to be describing: using the massive stream of 100 million tweets a day that flows through Twitter as the basis of a kind of digital-age Associated Press or Reuters newswire, which news organizations could share and use as a tool for distributed eye-witness reporting from around the world. Associated Press had the same thing in mind when it formed a partnership with NowPublic, the Vancouver, British Columbia “citizen journalism” company now part of the Examiner group.
As Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer said at the time — not long after the tsunami in Indonesia — the newswire has thousands of reporters around the globe, but none of them happened to be anywhere close to Indonesia when the tsunami struck. Why not take advantage of the people who were there, and their ability to send reports and photos and video to the world? That’s exactly what Twitter allows, and we’ve seen it happen in dozens of cases already, from earthquakes in Haiti to bombings in London.
What news organizations really need is a way to filter through those millions of tweets and find the ones that really matter, and add something verifiable to a breaking news story. The New York Times created its own verified lists of Twitter users during a shooting at Fort Hood and other news events, and there are some relatively new services — such as Storify and Curated.by — that can make it easier to pull threads together during a live news story, but it’s still not as easy as it could be. What if Twitter had tools that could help them do that? That would really be interesting. Maybe the company isn’t thinking about it, but it should; there’s a need, and someone is going to fill it.
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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Ed Kohler