The “Twitter ain’t all that” backlash

In the wake of blog posts and news articles about the use of Twitter during the earthquake in China (including one by me), there has been a fairly predictable backlash response — about how Twitter is just one of many tools that people can use to stay updated on news events, that it gets more attention because the “digerati” are enamored with it, and that the praise for Twitter is largely overdone. You can see aspects of these arguments in comments from Eric Rice on my post (as well as here), and in a recent post by Kaiser Kuo of Ogilvy’s Digital Watch.

All of these criticisms have some validity to them. Plenty of people have stayed informed about the Virginia Tech shootings or the tsunamis in Indonesia or similar events by using cellphone text messages, Facebook posts, Wikipedia entries and even the good old radio. I don’t think anyone is saying — as Kaiser puts it at the end of his post — that this episode saw Twitter “drive a nail in the coffin of traditional media.” If anyone is saying that, then they are stupid or being inflammatory. The point is not that anything is driving a nail into something else; it’s that new tools are emerging that can be used to some benefit.

No one is suggesting that Twitter replace the emergency broadcast system, or that Twitterers should be thought of in the same breath as “first responders” such as search & rescue personnel, which is what Eric seems concerned about. That’s ridiculous. But why shouldn’t we talk about how Twitter can be used to get information out about disasters? Kaiser Kuo himself spends much of his post talking about how Twitter “proved very useful as a means of quickly disseminating information gleaned from the mainstream media on the scene,” and how the broadcast nature of the service “made it better than simple IM.”

That’s the point, not whether Twitter is better than something else, or replacing something else, or the best thing ever.

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