Thursday, November 27, 2008

News: Where trust is a two-way street

I was on my way home last night on the train when news of the events in Mumbai reached me.

It wasn't via print, radio, tv, rss or search. It came via Twitter.

This is not the first time that Twitter has beaten the mainstream media to the news - at least to news that matters to me..

And it certainly trumps the mainstream for depth.

When I read the first tweets, I rattled over to the BBC site for more. And what I found was less: Sterile, seen-from-the-centre, one-size-fits-all, mass media.

Twitter not only wins for speed and depth, but also for humanity. (Image courtesy)

Twitter presents us with the human face of events. It does this by going beyond the best efforts of the BBC et al to personalize the story by giving us one human version of events (ie this is Mustapha's story, he's an 11-yr-old refugee etc). It presents everyone's story - witnesses, actors, worried friends and relatives.

A rich complex tapestry of news emerges, one much more like human stories than broadcast news. A mainline, unfiltered connection to reality.

News is now information that is relevant to you. The people you trust are great at sharing with you what you need to know. And now we have the tools for communities of purpose to gel globally, and in real time. Like twitter.

Can the likes of the BBC remain one of the 'people' we trust. Of course. But they have to understand trust is a two-way street. If you want us to trust you, you need to trust us.

For example the BBC could have rapidly assembled an rss output from a twitter search ( as we used to call it) of relevant terms in respect of the Mumbai attacks and streamed that on their site. But of course, that would mean they'd have to trust the great US (We, not the U.S.).

And that seems such a struggle for the centre. They can stick to their guns. They can stick to their old ways.

And they will, quite literally, become an irrelevance when compared to the real-time relevance provided by communities of purpose worldwide - the eighth mass media.

I want to thank my good friend Mike Leis for prompting me on this post. He has a great take on what twitter means for news and more, here.

Update Nov 27, 2008, 4pm. Daily Telegraph; Last Night The Social Web Came of Age.


  1. With you on that one David. I also heard about it first on twitter and was reading about events unfolding real-time in a very powerful way.

  2. Thanks for a(nother) great post, David.
    But it doesn't have to be terrible news for this new method to work.
    I wasted half Monday trying to get to grips with the new VAT rules. My accounts software company were unhelpful to the point of me getting cross.
    But my social media network found a link to a forum that was helpful.

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  4. I've worked in radio for 10 years and there are a few problems with creating such a feed.

    The BBC is liable for accuracy and also has to be wary of potentially legal prejudice - you'll never see direct feeds from the public, unless the laws change.

    They could/should of had someone monitoring those feeds and basically retweeting them, but to display them as is, is not going happen - its not a trust issue of the content.

    Anyway, how many minutes would it take till someone abused the live feed? Spam/"F u" or racial slurs... sad but true

    (horrific typo corrected!)

  5. Thanks all for posting.
    Wanted to respond in particular to Luke. I do take your point. I've worked in mainstream media for 20 years.
    But these conversations are happening. If the Beeb was clear about its source (eg twitter) - its live nature and just relaxed a little about (and admitted) its lack of control in this respect, it just might swing a little closer to the reality of the vast majority of media - that is the eighth (us!).
    It broadcasts live football matches complete with the rudest chants for example and hasn't been banned yet.
    It does live - it just likes to think it can control live. But in a connected world that's increasingly an (at best) hopeful position to cling to.
    Your compromise (ie an approved retweeting) seems a sensible first step.
    Perhaps engage the community of people who love the beeb in the network of trust that would make this possible 24/7 - ie superusers with rights to approve tweets.

    Trust and approve the user so that they can bring more trustworthy content to those who trust the beeb.

    But we always have to bear in mind trust is relative. It is between people.

  6. Background chanting is completely different to publishing direct messages from tweet - although, I dont watch football so I have no idea how loud they are though!

    Saying we have no control over this feed is not an excuse legally. I don't think its a trust issue, its a (fear of) legal issue.

    I love blogging etc but I think people are too quick (not saying you david) generally in the "blogosphere" to say, oooh MSM doesn't use citizen journalism... when its not about trust or content, I'm sure its just legal advice saying dont do it.

  7. Luke I do get you, but there is no distinction in the publishing of a tweet and the publishing of content on the bbc website EXCEPT in the eyes of an out-dated set of media laws.
    Those laws applied when the distribution of published information was in the control of the few. That is clearly, by any measure, no longer the case.
    Change is not just required - it has happened.

    Thanks for probing - you're helping me every step of the way. Hope I'm helping you a little too?

  8. I totally agree, the laws are ridiculously outdated.

    My local paper is being taken to court for a comment about a councillor that was attached to a story - legally as it currently stands if you moderate any comments on your site, you're liable for the content they contain. I'll be interested to see how that case pans out.

    Congrats on the top 100 thing too!


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?