I’m fascinated by Twitter’s potential for tracking live events – one can track updates of Pakistan’s Long March using the hashtag #longmarch by searching for #longmarch at Twitter Search, or automated live updates here.

What Are Hashtags?

A hashtag is just a keyword with a # before it, which allows users to search for it as a separate topic, and hence to also publish to it. You’ll notice that we’ve used the tag #LongMarch in the title of this article, instead of just “Long March”. Once published, the story will be automatically also published to MediaNama on Twitter (using Twiterfeed via our RSS Feed) and because of the presence of the hashtag, will be visible to those tracking the trending topic. 

This is Crowdsourcing

TwitterSourcing is crowdsourcing at its very best, and worst. During the Mumbai Attacks in India, we found that live updates on Twitter tend to be a mix of the following:

— Journalists and individuals updating from the ground – hence the information is crowdsourced
— Un-authenticated rumours published, and spread by people looking to just spread anything interesting, or looking for authentication of information. This is dangerous
— Republication of information being broadcast on TV
— Requests for help and more information on individuals who may be missing or hurt

 For Publishers – their own Twitter?

Coveritlive is an online Twitter like service for publishers that offers them a great amount of control over who is updating. We had considered using Coveritlive for event coverage on MediaNama when it was launched, but it then lacked a couple of features that I needed – a mobile interface (given that most conferences, sadly, don’t provide WiFi connectivity). Coveritlive didn’t, and apparently still doesn’t, allow  one to publish to Twitter – thus preventing usfrom reaching out to a wider audience. 

Some Thoughts On Twitter-CrowdSourcing

At the same time, updates from Coveritlive have allowed the integration of a few twitter accounts and hashtags to the publishers own twitter stream. In that context – who owns, and who is liable for the content in that Coveritlive stream, if a publisher integrates a hashtag? In case of Twitter, with news information being broadcast on Twitter using the hashtags, where is the exclusivity of content? If users do have access to the channels content, then this could be seen as a means of promotion. 

At the same time, Twitter is very different from blogs – it’s easier to publish to, and most importantly, easier to track.  Because Twitter users are on a single platform, using seach tools, one can track popular and trending topics, what is being said about particular individuals, brands. It’s not like in the case of blogs – which are spread across the web, where it is difficult to track what is being said by whom.

For the upcoming Indian elections, the hashtag #IndiaVotes09 will be used by users on Twitter – so one may track those updates here.