Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Twitter During Big Events

As you're well aware by now, yesterday there was a series of explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  I first heard of the news through Twitter.  I got most of my information through twitter after I realised that the news media was just looping the same three seconds of video and knew nothing.

The thing that stood out most was twitter rapidly morphed from the "micro-blog" service that it usually is, into a full on emergency communication network.  We were getting information from the Red Cross, The Mayor's Office in Boston, every major national service or security division and this was very informative.

Due to the nature of the switch there's a very apparent etiquette that kicks in.  It basically runs like this:

  • Turn off your scheduled-tweets - nobody wants stuff unrelated to the big event clogging up their feed and making it more difficult to filter information.
  • Turn off your branded tweets - nobody wants to hear about your products right now.
You can think of this as the equivalent of when a TV station suspends normal broadcasting schedules.  When you post on twitter, it's a form of broadcast, so basically you ought to stop it and let the important stuff through.

Two problems that kicked in were as follows:
  1. The above didn't happen with many people.  This became painfully apparent (Debbie Gibson getting complained at for posting beauty tips was one that springs to mind - it turned out to be scheduled tweets).  From a software design point of view, scheduled tweet managers should have a remote kill switch that is triggered by Twitter or some suitable authority that can solve this issue.
  2. Real-time tweets expire very quickly, but people are still retweeting them half an hour or more later.  A classic example was "Another potential device found"... Sorry, is that now, or the device that was found 45 minutes ago?  A simple time-stamp on the tweets would solve this issue.
Whilst it's very good to see how the twitter sphere reacts in an important event, locating safe people, spreading information/pictures/links, etc, but there's a few issues that still need to be ironed out.  They're not particularly big issues, but they compound needlessly in a situation where clarity is the order of the day.  

The good news is they're easily fixed if someone would take the initiative to do so.