While “microblogging” is one of the most common ways to explain Twitter, it is precisely how Twitter is different from blogging that makes Twitter important.
That difference was hinted at in a new study about blogs and the news cycle conducted by researchers at Cornell University and published in late June. That study documented what newshounds already know: blogs do not lead the news cycle but rather they follow, typically by 2.5 hours. In other words, blogs most often are not a source of news. Instead they recycle information, extending the news cycle.
This is, of course, exactly the beef that mainstream media has with the blogosphere model. Blogs give away, for free, the information provided by traditional news sources. If you kill-off the mainstream media by giving away their content for free, asks the old guard, then who will provide the oxygen for the blogosphere? [see earlier post The End Game Begins (Finally).
One answer looks to be Twitter.
Increasingly Twitter is an original source of news in the news cycle. Twitter technology is such that it empowers millions of users to report news events in real time, as they are witnessed. The 140 character format and the tagging system are perfect for distributing news bits over handheld devices with apps like Twitterfon on the iPhone. In fact, the “hashtag” system on Twitter was popularized by a user, Nate Ritter, who tagged his tweets from the San Diego fires in 2007 with the hashtag “#sandiegofire” to make it easy to find and follow them.
Though many tweets fail to qualify as news, increasing tweets are leading the news cycle. The New York Times story concludes by quoting Sreenath Sreenivasan of Columbia Journalism School “who pointed to social media, especially the rapidly rising Twitter, as an informal but highly influential news recommendation and distribution network.’Even from last fall to today, the dynamics of the news cycle are very different, because of Twitter,’ he said.”
Tweeting a news report does not a full news cycle make, but one more piece of the news cycle of the future is falling into place.