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Archive for February 3rd, 2009

#uksnow and the Mainstreaming of Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3 February 2009

In Sunday’s post about the problems with Google search in passing I commented that I have learnt of this problem from Twitter. I went on to add that:

Now I could use this as an example of showing the benefits of Twitter when something significant happens in the world. And I suspect that when the next major incident (bombings, severe weather problems, major accidents, etc.)  occurs we’ll hear stories of how Twitter was used and we’ll have another of influx of subscribers.

Little did I realise that the severe weather problems occurred the following day. And yes, Twitter did have a major role to play. I noticed this first thing in the morning after I switched on my iPod Touch and downloaded my latest Tweets.  There were several updates on the state of the weather around the country. When I got to work I gave an update on the weather at the University and in town (Bath University, being located at the top of a steep hill, has its own microclimate). And I tagged my tweet with the #uksnow hashtag as I’d noticed many others doing.

And later that evening I discovered that people were adopted the convention of using this tag in conjunction with the post code together with a scale of the intensity of the snow. So I should have tweeted “No snow in Bath BA1 0/10 #uksnow” but a few hours later given the update “Snow started at Bath University BA2 4/10 #uksnow“.

This use of Twitter to exploit the wisdom of the crowds at the advent of the snow was driven by Ben March, using an approach which seems to have been inspired by Ben Smith, who built UK Trains Wiki which Tweets disruption alerts for 25 UK train operators.

You can view the snow map which is built from an aggregation of tweets with the #uksnow tag on Ben Marshs’s blog. And a follow-up post on the blog provides links to people who have commented on this approach which includes The Guardian, The Telegraph and UK Techcrunch.

Some people might regard this as trivia – and many of the photos uploaded to Flickr with the #uksnow tag show kids making snowmen, sldeging, etc. But for me this is a great example of community benefits of Twitter. And if I was travelling London today I would be reading the tweets from my Twitter contacts in London.

A recent high-profile BBC news item on Twitter suggested it was becoming popular because of the number of celebrities, such as Jonathon Ross and Stephen Fry, who are on Twitter. Not for me. The reason it’s becoming embraced beyond the early adopters and becoming mainstream is because of the benefits which early adopters  have been talking about for the past year or so.  It provides a sense of community; it can be used for sharing and for alerting.  And I’m pleased that this has happened. Now where have the Twitter sceptics gone?

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