Posted by: structureofnews | April 5, 2011

Where Tweets Go To Die

This should come as no surprise to anyone, but you’re unlikely to be reading this.

After all, you’re pretty busy, I’m sure, and constantly inundated with emails, tweets and news updates all the time. Perfectly understandable; so am I.  And unless you’re a regular to this blog – and no, I don’t mean you, mom – then either you came here via a random search query (and guess how many people type “structured journalism” by chance into Google) or followed a tweet or a facebook update here.   And let’s face it, who has time?

No one.  No one really has time to follow the unending barrage of information that’s coming at us.  It’s true, of course, that filtering mechanisms have improved greatly since the early days of the web, mostly courtesy of our friends – real and digital – who we depend on to sort out things we might like to read.  As a wisdom-of-the-crowds mechanical turk, it works pretty well.  I don’t have to scour the web for articles of interest to me; at least, I don’t have to scour it as much as I used to.

The problem isn’t filtering; it’s the speed of information.  There’s too much, too soon.  And unless I want to devote a large portion of my day to following the various tweets and updates, I’ll never really catch up.   As Steve Rubel of Edelman notes in a Business Insider piece, most of the tweets you – or your friends – are sending out just aren’t arriving at their intended destination.

Let’s consider Twitter, for example. They are seeing a staggering 110 million tweets per day. And the volume is growing. But therein lies the challenge. Each tweet decays almost as soon as it is released. Some 92% of all retweets (and 97% of replies) are within the first 60 minutes.

Now, it’s true that volume isn’t everything.  Maybe your tweet is intended for just one person, or a small community.  So what if the rest of the world skips over it?  And, in fact, Jonathan Stray at the AP has written about how journalism needs to be better at targeting and marketing its stories/information at the audiences that need it most, or can do something about it – something we’ve taken for granted in the dead-trees age.  (It’s good and smart analysis – check it out).

There’s much to be said for that – and it’s one the many new skills and considerations we as journalists need to be thinking of these days, especially if we want our work to be meaningful to someone, somewhere.

But the problem is more than simply targeting our stories, or tweets – it’s understanding better what people want.  And while that’s changing all the time, we still haven’t found the magic formula that gives us an extra couple of hours a day.  So my suspicion is that speeding up the pace of information, rather than finding ways to collect it in useful structures that let readers explore it at their leisure, with broader context, is the wrong direction.

Sure, we need to know important news when it happens.  But too much of our effort is spent breathlessly following events in the world, with little regard for the 99% of us who are happy to read all about it later that day.  Or that weekend.

The trick is to find a way to do both – cover news as it happens, and also build more enduring value out of those otherwise-ephemeral reports.  As Politifact has done, and which is the idea at the core of structured journalism.

So go on – tell all your friends. Tweet this now.  I’ll be here watching the traffic soar.


  1. Maybe timeliness doesn’t mean “as soon as it happens,” but “at the moment when I most need to know that.”

    • Precisely. Of course, that varies from person to person – and journalism is still an industrial process that’s designed around a mass (or mass-ish) audience, so it’s hard to use the current process to build a more custom service. That said, a fair number of people probably do want to know stuff in a reasonably timely (as in “when it happens”) manner. So I think the trick is to cover things in some quasi-realtime manner while still allowing for it to be used in a more personalized and timeless fashion.

      Great post on the editorial search engine, by the way. And congrats on making it past the next round of the Knight Challenge.

  2. I read the first par then had to rush off

    • well, that’s the only part that really matters anyway…

  3. […] news, ovvero quanto esse restino disponibili all’ attenzione del loro pubblico di riferimento è, secondo Reg Chua, il risultato della eccessiva quantità e velocità delle stesse. Mentre Clay Shirky sosteneva che […]

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