Twitter as a research tool?
“Weird and aimless”: that was David Mitchell’s summation of Twitter in his extremely witty must-read column in last Sunday’s Observer.
His brief description went as follows:
‘It’s a website where you express what you’re currently doing in 140 characters or fewer and that gets sent to all your “followers”; similarly, the “tweets” of those you “follow” are relayed to you – and you can do it on your phone, laptop, BlackBerry, iThermos or rape alarm.’
Pretty much sums it up. But the great thing about it, is it keeps coming up with new uses. For example, I discovered this week it provides an excellent living, breathing research tool for journalists.
How? Well, later this week I am flying out to Iraq to spend some time reporting on the work of British troops in the closing days of Operation Telic; the advent of control being handed to Iraqi troops. Now I’ve only been given short notice of the visit – well 5 days to be precise – and that’s hardly enough time to dig through A. Leo Oppenheim’s Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilisation.
I need the facts and I need them fast. But as well as reading up on the basics of the Iraq occupation, I need to be following the latest news and developments before I head out. That’s where Twitter comes in. With Tweetdeck installed, I have had constant updates on all the chatter involving “iraq” and “basra” for the last 3 days. I know who’s talking about it, and when big news stories happen they appear as news feeds.
Best of all it’s live, it’s fresh.
For those that would come back saying Twitter is not a reliable source – well, actually if the sites it links to like the BBC and CNN are reliable then what’s the problem?
And on that whole “reliability” issue, well let’s go back to David Mitchell – he sums it up perfectly:
‘…readers should always question the veracity of what they read and the motives of whoever wrote it, and in the internet age more than ever. People who allow themselves to be made credulous by stylish typesetting and a serif font are screwed. And if Wikipedia, while being very informative in most cases, teaches a few lessons about questioning sources, then that’s all to the good.’
Let’s not forget Twitter as a good tool for collecting information, as well as publishing it.
I’m leaving very shortly; in the likely absence of any internet connection in Iraq this will be the last blog for a week or so…