Twitter’s chief operating officer, Ali Rowghani, helped announce an interesting new product partnership today at an event in New York — a partnership between CNN and a company called Dataminr. The latter, which pays for access to the Twitter “firehose” of 500 million tweets a day, sells a tool that helps financial companies mine that information for useful signals. CNN now has access to a breaking-news version of that same tool, a kind of souped-up version of Tweetdeck, and soon other companies will as well, for a fee.
And why would such a deal, in which Twitter is just a third-party supplier, justify the presence of an executive like Rowghani? Because the company wants to promote its brand with media entities and encourage further such partnerships, which presumably would increase demand for the firehose — and also cement its burgeoning reputation as a breaking-news service akin to Reuters or Bloomberg.
Both Twitter and CNN made much of the fact that the news outlet was able to beat its competitors to the story about a recent shooting at a Maryland mall because Dataminr’s tool flagged a tweet from an emergency-response worker at the scene. That kind of testimonial could help counter criticisms that the news on Twitter about events like the Boston bombings is unreliable.
Ever since Twitter helped break the news of a plane landing in the Hudson River in 2009, or the news of the attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, it has been obvious to many that the network is a real-time news-wire composed of updates from sources who are actually close to a news event — unlike some traditional wire services, who have to send their reporters out into the field. But finding those on-the-ground sources has been difficult.
Journalists like Andy Carvin, who recently left National Public Radio and is now a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, became pioneers of a new form of journalism by treating Twitter as a newsroom and verifying reports from sources in real time. Eliot Higgins, a British blogger known as Brown Moses, has done the same thing, along with startups like Storyful (recently acquired by News Corp.) and their “open newsroom.”
What Dataminr’s software is designed to do is make that task a little easier, and give media outlets like CNN earlier warning about where news is likely to come from. But it’s worth noting that since all the data comes from Twitter, it’s also possible for Twitter to surface that news as well — without any need for Dataminr’s analytics. In fact, Twitter just updated its mobile software to make it easier for users to search for news on specific topics.
As I’ve tried to point out before, Twitter is in a fairly unique position when it comes to the traditional news media: on the one hand, it is their best partner, because of all the real-time information it can provide. At the same time, however, it is also a very real competitor to them, as Dave Winer has noted — Twitter owns the channel through which that news gets reported, and every time a media outlet cites the company, it reinforces that ownership.
Does that mean Twitter is planning to compete with companies like CNN? No — or at least, not right now. But whether CEO Dick Costolo wants to admit it or not (which he doesn’t), Twitter is a media entity, and an increasingly powerful one. He who owns the distribution channel owns the news, to some extent, and Twitter is one of the biggest pure-news distribution channels around.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Rosaura Ochoa