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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Using Twitter to deliver news: a few early thoughts

I've been getting news feeds on Twitter from BBC, Radio NZ and a Netherlands based group called BreakingNewsOn for a couple of months. So far, I'd say Twitter works really well for delivering news.

From a user point of view it's great - news finds me instead of me having to find it, I can see just enough information to decide whether or not I want to read more, and I can click through to the source site to read more when I am interested.

From a publisher's point of view, it's also great - cheap, relatively easy to set up an automated feed, and another way of getting news out to audiences in their own environment rather than relying on them to make the effort to visit your website.

It's ideal for publishing breaking news (it's like a ticker that runs not just across your website but across your users' screens too). It also seems to work well for regular round-ups, provided the headlines are re-written to reflect the nature of the update. Twitter users have no way of knowing at a glance that the story's been updated if the headline looks the same as it did an hour ago.

There are a few limitations:

  • You have to keep the character count to 140 and the link has to follow the headline/abstract. The headline can't act as a link. It would be great if Twitter could make the latter possible. It's a tight publishing space, so it really helps to keep your identifier short. BBC works well - it leaves plenty of room for text. BreakingNewsOn is way too long.
  • The headline IS the story. I gather most news services are serving RSS feeds to Twitter which run headline: standfirst/intro and chop off once the character count runs out, leaving a dangling ellipsis (...) followed by the link. Here's an example:
BBC TV poll backs Berwick border move: According to a television poll, 60% of people in Berwick-upon-Tweed want t..
This does the job, although to be honest I find the ... just as annoying as anywhere else I see it online. I'd prefer to see:

BBC TV poll backs Berwick border move: TV poll finds 60% of people in Berwick-upon-Tweed want to be part of Scotland.

Ultimately, it'd be great to see a Twitter headline and standfirst written somewhere in the story workflow that wouldn't break when published. This could also be used for mobile.
  • There's a problem with overkill. Part of the fun of Twitter is seeing a stream of diverse posts and conversations. News gets in the way if the feeds take up too much room (there are only 20 posts per Twitter page, no one wants 16 of them to be news posts). One way around this is to break the feeds down to sections: politics, world, Auckland, business, technology, sport etc. Then people can choose just those feeds they're interested in and are less likely to get inundated.


FND said...

I've started subscribing to a few news services myself lately (@cnnbrk, @nytimes, @politics).

It's a nice way to consume news headlines (and it's mostly just the headlines I read). But you're right in saying that it also disrupts the flow of regular tweets.
So I'm not sure yet whether I'll keep using these services.

PS: Separating the headlines and URLs is necessary because many people use simple text messages (SMS) for Twitter, which don't support hyperlinks.

Julie Starr said...

@FND Thanks for putting me straight on separating headlines and URLs, and for pointing out @nytimes etc. I hadn't seen those services and may try them out.

Re: just consuming headlines. Out of interest, do you ever click through to the site?

FND said...

> Re: just consuming headlines.
> Out of interest, do you ever
> click through to the site?

Rarely, but sometimes.
As you've said: The headline is the story.
I guess it's very similar to RSS feeds; can't read every single article.