This headline from ReadWriteWeb on media coverage of the Iranian protests says it all: “Dear CNN, Please Check Twitter For News About Iran.” Ouch.
I understand many of us may be weary of Twitter-related news. There seems to be no end to the micro-blogging service’s proverbial 15 minutes, but I’m writing on it once again to pay credence to the fact that Twitter is changing our lives this very instant. Likewise, the fact that traditional media admits it is not as prepared as Twitter to handle breaking news and emergenices like the recent protests in Iran simply fuels the fire.
Rarely are the sociological effects of any technological innovation seen with such immediacy as they have been with Twitter. The advent of Twitter has revolutionized social and professional networking, given marketers and entrepreneurs a new tool to connect with customers and partners, and made it possible for people of any persuasion to build loose associations with people with whom they either share something in common or simply find interesting.
No longer is it necessary to send a ‘message’ along with your ‘friend’ request as is often expected of Facebook, and sometimes, MySpace users, as MySpace skews much more promotional these days and adding a user without sending an introduction is par for the course. In turn, it has become unusually easy to connect with people from all over the world. A social barrier has been broken and communicating relatively openly with complete strangers has become the norm.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While the fact that I can reach out to people I’ve never met in real life without seeming forward or misguided is wild enough, what I find to be a more interesting phenomenon is the way microblogging is revolutionizing the way information is spread at a faster rate than other social media networks.
Part of this lies in the fact that microblogging by nature limits the number of characters one can use in any message, and Twitter’s limit of 140 characters lends itself to easy sharing of headlines and breaking news. The other part of it is the fact that Twitter lets users communicate en masse in a matter of seconds, removing some of the barriers present with other forms of ‘instant’ communication like text messaging, mobile phones, and broadcast news.
To that end, microblogging’s usefulness during emergencies has been a topic explored at length, and Twitter’s recent decision to delay regularly scheduled maintenance to their site in order to be available to Iranian citizens during the protests that took place after Iran’s hotly debated presidential election has given credence to the idea that traditional news networks are failing the public and online services like Twitter are becoming the de-facto method of communication during an emergency.
Will microblogging replace phones, radios, and TVs as the communication standard for law enforcement and other public agencies? Will there come a time when local governments mandate citizens have 24/7 access to microblogging services much like the Housing and Urban Development department requires residences to carry smoke detectors? Post your thoughts below!