Saturday, August 02, 2008

How to Bubble the Good of Twitter to the Top

The aftermath of the quakes in California saw a lot of talk about Twitter getting the word spread, from the trenches, very quickly. Chris O'Brien heralded it as a sign that NextNewsRoom is doing something right. A lot of people were talking about it. Twitter carried the news before any news agency. First is one thing, but quality control is something else. The flood of messages reached a point that its almost assured no one read every quake tweet that was sent. There were just too many of them. Can anyone imagine the flood that would have been seen if Twitter existed and was popular on the morning of 9/11? It would have been maddening.

We can take this situation and ask two questions. How can we form something better from the flood of tiny messages? Do we even want to? Can we find some way of filtering both relevant and "good" posts and could we pull some larger picture from all the little pieces? Of course, doing so would take resources, and those are either iron, eyes, or time. What can we spare that is worth the result? Maybe at any cost, its just not worth the result. Does this new source of news simply fill a gap the old misses, not threatening the established zones?

I'm really interested in what kind of system we could implement to condense a stream of tweets into something larger and more thought out, but it poses a lot of problems. It would either take a lot of processing power to analyze and merge a stream or a lot of people doing it manually. Either way has costs, and reducing either resource would lead to the results taking too long to be relevant.

What would any system like this filter out? When you could have hundreds or thousands of people reporting on an event at the same time, you could get a lot of redundancy, so you'd want to filter that. If twenty people break the same news at a trade show, we only need the fact once. Can language processing do this? Human eyes would probably have even more trouble. What humans could do is read the stream, through filters, and summarize it as they read. Maybe retweets need a bigger status? This could repeat up the ranks of relevancy and importance.

Some solution to this perceived problem may or may not be possible, but the end, we may not care. Twitter certainly isn't the only end all beat all communication mechanism, despite what some enthusiasts may seem to believe. At the end of day, its uses are limited, and limits don't have to be a bad thing.

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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