Separating The Wheat From The Chaff: Using For Breaking News

We know that in a crisis or breaking news situation, the Twitter stream can get clogged with retweets, rumor and people trying to hijack a trending topic. Enter as a possible solution.

san bruno ca map
San Bruno CA - Image Links To Google Map
Twitter Sarah Granger
Tweet From Sarah Granger - Image Links To Tweet

Thursday about 6 pm, an explosion rocked San Bruno, CA, located near San Francisco airport.

I learned about the fire via Twitter, from Sarah Granger (@sairy), probably about 8 pm.

Soon, I went into Twitter crisis mode:

  • I set up a hashtag search (#sanbrunofire) and watched the Twitter trending page (San Bruno). The hashtag search immediately overwhelmed Tweetdeck. (You are being throttled.)
  • I set up a tweet archive (sanbrunofire) at TwapperKeeper. And another at 140kit.
  • Because Intersect just went live, I thought I’d post a story there for history’s sake. (Intersect makes it easy to find stories in time and place.)

Then I remembered, a service for curating tweets that is currently in beta.

Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) had mentioned earlier this week and sent me an invite code. I’d played with it a little and had created my first public curation, tweets related to journalism education.

What Worked

Clearly I needed some method for identifying new tweets. Retweets may or may not contain “current” information. For example, an ABC7 tweet providing details on overnight shelter for animals was still being retweeted at 9.20 am on Friday.

Time to tweak the hashtag search: click “link” and reject “RT” and suddenly the stream slows to a manageable flow. One tab with this search.

I found three local news organizations that were tweeting frequently: KTXL FOX 40 (@FOX40), ABC7 (@abc7newsBayArea), and KRON4 (@kron4news). I opened a tab for each of these accounts. [Note: as of 10.00 am, only ABC7 had been updated since sometime last night, even though there was a press conference this morning.]

tweet with curate annotated
Tweet With Curate Mouseover Link : Image Links To Tweet

A fifth tab held my dashboard. That’s when I remembered that I needed to do all of this in Chrome, not Safari. The cool widget that adds a “curate” link to the “reply” and “retweet” list at the bottom of a tweet currently works only with Chrome.

Eventually, I would open tabs for individuals who were doing a great job of curating the old-fashioned way, via retweets. Shout outs to @TheFireTracker2, @CalFireNews and @SanBrunoFire.

In addition to the traditional web page view of curated tweets, also has a javascript-enabled widget that allows you to embed the stream in a blog post or website. In the spirit of “testing,” I embedded the widget on my personal blog hosted at MediaTemple; WiredPen is still hosted at and cannot embed javascript.

What Do I Mean When I Say “Curate”?

When I started the journalism education “bundle” on, I was thinking of curate in a delicious-like way: bookmarking tweets with great links.

When I began the San Bruno fire bundle, I put on a reporter hat. As I worked through the process, I would

  • Check a link to see where it went. This helped me minimize duplicates.
  • Highlight the most meaningful tweets. In other words, a link might be great, but if the tweet text wasn’t, I didn’t pick it.
  • Curate the original tweet, not a “via” or “RT”, when possible or timely.
  • Generate my own tweets to curate, if I couldn’t find well-written tweets pointing to useful links. I would eventually use @Kathy_live for this purpose.
  • Avoid curating rumor. For example, I phoned the motel that was supposedly offering free rooms, then tweeted the information with “confirmed” as the lede.
  • Go beyond the obvious. By this I mean I looked for contextual information, such as this tweet from Andrew Restuccia: “Pipelines outside of ‘high consequence areas’ have no federal requirements for inspections – #sanbrunofire

What else should I have been doing?

Next Steps is an important and intriguing concept. The information firehose is going to do nothing but grow, and with that growth comes noise. A lot of it.

I see two immediate needs: an extension for Firefox and a more robust search in the dashboard, which is the only way to curate tweets if you are not using Chrome.

For newsrooms, the primary limitation of the current configuration is the single author nature of the tool. If a newsroom wanted more than one person to be curating information — a scenario that I can see as needed for national crisis or one geographically larger than the San Bruno fire — then all users will need to be logged into the same account.

Three thoughts on improving the stream embed:

  • Make it easily customizable — number of tweets shown and width.
  • Have a “more” link so that a reader can expand the tweetstream without leaving the widget
  • Work with to develop a shortcode!

Learn More About is the brainchild of Bastian Lehmann (@batsi). It is clearly an important tool as the “real time” or “real time where I am right now” web evolves. As The Telegraph wrote this week:

Fast forward to 2010, and we’re being assaulted by more stuff than we can possibly consume. Facebook, Twitter and email are shovelling pictures and video down our throats ever more quickly. Feedback loops enabled by sharing and retweeting functions mean that each of us has now turned into an over-sharer as well as an over-consumer. Attempts to make this consumption more manageable, like British start-up, are still in their infancy, and the amount of time we spend on search engines is dwindling as we get sucked into a cluster of networks that saturate us with things we never asked for but which we nonetheless can’t get enough of. Those clusters of networks increasingly do not include search.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

5 replies on “Separating The Wheat From The Chaff: Using For Breaking News”

Work with to develop a shortcode!

The way to do that is to work within the WordPress.ORG framework and develop a plugin that makes that shortcode work. (Whole point of Open Source – if you got an itch, scratch it yourself!) Now, sure, you need a PHP wiz to do that, not something for your *average* newsie… but these days we live in a world where there’s an increasingly blurry line between hackers and journos and, heck, like yourself, a tendency to stake a claim in that grey area and build something.

As you indirectly pointed out, the way to *test* such code is by using it on self-hosted sites (like your Media Temple site); commercial sites like or Blogger or whathaveyou are generally loath to put beta code on shared hosting where a whole slew of people could get cracked…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.