Disclaimer: I was a huge Twitter critic when I signed up for the service over a year ago. Lately I’ve changed my tune and been raving about the amazing power of Twitter. This week I discovered that Air France Flight 447 had disappeared over the Atlantic and that David Carradine had died from Twitter updates!
Here’s how it worked. From my Twitter homepage I can view a section called “Trending Topics”. This is a real time feed of the most popular terms being mentioned at that moment. So when I see a term like “Air France” I know that there has been an incident in the air. By clicking on the term I get a list of all the Tweets mentioning Air France. Like this one from @MarcoABernal (Marco Antonio Bernal): “Bodies have been found from the crash of an Air France plane that disappeared Monday, the Brazilian air force says.”
So recently instead of gathering news from my NYTimes.com home page I’ve just clicked right on through to Twitter. It is the internet’s equivalent of listening in on the talk of headlines around the water cooler. As such, there is a lot more room for error, here say and opinion. Like this Tweet from @Twirler17 (Alyssa Missmer): “Wait, air France KNEW there was a possible problem and let it fly anyway? So confused! Je ne comprends pas de gens.” And as any open internet scheme there is plenty of room for black hat marketers to fill the news feed with unrelated information. The practice of inserting a trending topic into a shamelessly self promotional tweet has become very common. Like this tweet which grabbed two trending topics in one @thommyartin (Thomas Artinson): “Air France: Susan Boyle peeing in public Place – New video: http://tinyurl.com/l5vmhs.”
But the coolest aspect Twitter trending topics is that they are completely populist. So when I opened Twitter on Saturday afternoon the same source that had been feeding me serious headlines all week let me know about Jay-Z’s latest song Death of Autotune. Disclaimer: Jay-Z is my favorite rapper.