It's all information

How do you find what's going on in the world? Google? The BBC or CNN?

Why wait?

We don't need to wait for the human delays inherent in data gathering and redisribution; we have the ability to go to the source. We can listen to the world tweeting.

I found out about the Mumbai attacks last night by watching http://www.twitscoop.com/ . It's one of a number of tools you can use to monitor the most common terms on twitter, and therefore find out what a significant subset of the world is thinking about. (The Age has an interesting piece on this event).

Right now, on Thanksgiving, most of them appear to be thinking about desert. This is an amusing artifact of the US-centric nature of the web, but twitter can also extend worldwide, even into less developed countries where most users tend to use handheld devices (for which microblogging is well suited). It's also telling me that "Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green, has been arrested". Admittedly, this I could have found from BBC news by now - if I knew to look for it.

Twitter provides a particularly fine-grained form of what's now being referred to as "Ambient Awareness"; small packets of information from your friends and from the world that come in numberous forms and from numerous sources. Nowadays, everything is, or can be known, and it's becoming known every more quickly.

This can be overwhelming; as mentioned in my recent FoWA report it's referred to as "drinking from the information firehose". There is ever more information coming in to our daily lives, and we spend ever more time trying to manage it. Ignorance may not be bliss, but at least it gives you a rest.

Science fiction novels, and earnest speculation on the future, tended to assume that some form of "intelligent agent" would manage this for you. So far, those have conspicously filed to appear; the best we have as yet is filtering on things like google alerts, but trying to teach this system "everything I'm interested in" is still completely impractical.

There are tools under development to try and tackle this; Friendfeed (as discussed at FoWA) has some interesting ideas on this on the basis of the interests of your friends and colleagues; essentially using the "hive mind" of this group, coupled with your previous patterns of usage.

Twitscoop, then, taps the hive mind of a selected proportion of the whole internet, in much the same way that Google's "Zeitgeist" and trends do. But twitscoop is much quicker; twitter is more communication than documentation and so happens "live".

Sometimes, that can give you a peculiar insight into a terrible event like the Mumbai attacks. Sometimes it can tap into the group mind at a different, intruiging level and you see a brighter side of humanity.

This I also found recently via tweet trends in the form of "Tweetsgiving". 357 Twitter users got together and collected $10,591 (and rising) in 48 hours to build a classroom in a Zambian school. Obviously, someone set this up, but 300-odd people did it because they could see other people doing it; it was a group act made possible by the internet and the immediacy of twitter.

The rate of technical change, and information overload, that we currently face can be overwhelming. Maybe our best option to handle it is to share the work via something like twitter.
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-11-27 22:00

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