As the debate goes on about whether the micro-blogging service Twitter, the hot babe of the echo chamber known as the Silicon Valley at the moment, has become so important that uptime be damned, should be decentralised or even nationalised, or simply is not broken, the breaking news of a 7.8 earthquake in Sichaun, China is provides a crude reminder of how important Twitter really is, even in this remote corner in China.
The odd ones first heard about the news from a colleague on phone while on the way to the Cheklapkok aiport (which, by the way, is by far the best airport in the world) at 3:00pm HKT, which is about 30 minutes after the earthquake took place. I immediately pulled out my iPhone to try to verify this piece of breaking news — she’s on the way to Xi’an and an assessment to the risk is crucial before she decide whether to go or not. I know nothing beats Twitter in breaking news, even earthquake news, but at my first instinct I doubted whether Twitter could do as great for a piece of breaking news in China, where the crowd simply isn’t there. So, I tried, in succession:
- Yahoo! News
- Google News – China version
- Sina News – Chinese Daily section
- Wikinews – Chinese version
- Wikinews – English version
All to no avail. While I was about to call it quit, I gave one last try at Tweetscan, the real-time Twitter message (“Tweets”) aggregator and search engine, and there it goes – searching for “earthquake” gives a stream of messages confirming the earthquake, together with helpful links to the USGC Earthquake Centre’s earthquake detail page. Its mobile version make it all the sweeter to the iPhone users.
Once again, Twitter trumps the rest of the world.
The biggest disappointment to me is Wikinews. I understand that they have their own editorial process, but if Wikinews is to have any winning edge over the traditional media, breaking news like this would have to an important piece, and anything that prevents breaking news from actually breaking on this site that relies heavily on citizen journalism can only do more harm than good. And, even as of the time of writing, 5 hours since the earthquake, the news is still not on the home page of Wikinews (both English version and Chinese version).
And it’s time for me to treat Twitter more seriously. (Don’t follow me on Twitter yet – it’s an embarassing void.)