Is this the end of Twitter as a recession-busting business tool? Ever since the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, India, in which 172 people were killed and 239 were wounded, Big Media has debated Twitter's role in reporting the tragedy.
Hundreds of microbloggers followed the events in real time, squeezing news into Twitter's 140-characters-or-less posts. Many were posting updates and rumors, but others were trying to raise awareness for local blood banks. At the time, blogger Michael Arrington of TechCrunch told readers to "forget CNN."
As the Twitterverse turns
Some, like Forbes, call it a redemptive moment for citizen journalism, which took a blow when a CNN affiliate in October erroneously reported that Steve Jobs had been hospitalized after suffering a massive heart attack. (Whoops.)
Twitter's Mumbai coverage was better, but also had flaws. One tweet, reported by the BBC and others, falsely claimed that the Indian government was asking for an end to Twitter updates. Other tweets merely offered moral support -- snippets that Valleywag blogger Paul Boutin likened to "group-sulking."
But the Beeb most regrets the unfiltered rebroadcast of erroneous Twitter micro-reports. "Should we have checked this before reporting it? Made it clearer that we hadn't? We certainly would have done if we'd wanted to include it in our news stories (we didn't) or to carry it without attribution," BBC website editor Steve Herrmann told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.
Fair points, all. Mind if I briefly point out something else really important?
In less than two weeks, Twitter has evolved from a digital water cooler -- or, as one of my favorite business rebels, Alltop.com co-founder Guy Kawasaki calls it, a "Twool" -- into a semi-legitimate source of news that briefly trumped Big Media.
Welcome, Fools, to the new world of microreporting.
Another new-media mogul
We've seen this before. Scott Beale of the Laughing Squid blog illustrated the power of microreporting via Twitter after Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) PR team prevented him from snapping a photo of the company's booth at a tech conference earlier this year.
Beale's next move: tweet the experience and create an uprising. A Google engineer responded within an hour of his first post, and the company later apologized, Forbes reports.
As rich as they've become, neither Facebook nor News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace has demonstrated as much instant influence as Twitter. And that's with Facebook hosting a user community twice the population of France. It makes me wonder whether the conventional wisdom -- that Twitter is destined to be yet another social ad platform -- is wrong. Maybe Twitter, like Google, is instead meant to be a media mogul.
Tweeting a better suitor
Or maybe DoubleGoo was meant to bid the estimated $150 million or so necessary to buy Twitter. Certainly it'd be a better fit than would-be suitor Facebook. Much of Twitter's value is derived from its ability to filter posts and create custom feeds. Google monetizes search better than Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , and the remaining search engines combined. Could there be a more a natural fit?
Well ... yeah: Gannett (NYSE: GCI ) .
Twitter, like USA TODAY, delivers news morsels, leaving the sweeping (and sometimes dated) analysis to peers like New York Times (NYSE: NYT ) . What's more, both services deeply prize speed, and consequently attract huge audiences. USA TODAY, circulated to 2.3 million readers each weekday, is the nation's most-read daily newspaper. TwitterCounter, meanwhile, says that it tracks more than 790,000 unique Twitter accounts.
To be fair, the Times has plenty of digital street cred via About.com and a social-networking service called TimesPeople. But there are better alternatives. For example, if you think of Twitter as a newswire, Thomson Reuters and CNN parent Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) , which is reportedly developing its own wire service, are both potential suitors.
In other words, Twitter has options. Why would co-founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone sell now, just as Twitter is disrupting traditional news distribution?
It's like Arrington says: Forget CNN. Or the Times, or USA TODAY, or The Wall Street Journal. Twitter is a Rule Breaker in the making. Will you tune into the microreporting rebellion?