It would be terribly useful if there were a separate convention for tweets from witnesses to major events so their reports can be separated from the discussion that follows. How about !jpquake for witnesses vs. #jpquake for discussion?
Moments after the tragic earthquake hit Japan, folks are reporting on TV, people turned immediately to Twitter to tell friends and family and perhaps the world what was happening to them and to use it to get information and services.
But, of course, in only moments, people around the world talking about the event and the hashtag gets overrun with folks who are talking *about* the event than *from* it. That’s all good and wonderful as well. But I want a way to separate the two.
If witnesses used the !tag, it would also be possible to identify and compile a Twitter list of them. This would be helpful in stories where personal security is an issue. Witnesses in Bahrain would be unwise to use geocoding. But the !tag would merely reveal what they are already revealing in their tweets: that they are there. Somewhere.
Note importantly that the !tag would help people in the middle of a major event — people who need information and services — to also filter out the noise of our discussion from outside.
As for reading !tag tweets, I’d want to filter out retweets and just get the originals.
I also would like to run !tag tweets through translation engines. I suggested that to Ubermedia’s Bill Gross and he and his crew had great ideas on that in return.
The challenge in all of this, of course, is inducing millions of people to add this behavior. Thoughts?
: See also: Doc Searls on how the net turns TV news into newspapers (read: stale).
: Somewhat related: I wish TV news would carbon-date its B-roll. In a disaster such as this, I get loop fatigue: The same video shown again and again and again. It’s understandable why they need to do that and fine that they do. But we don’t know the current state of the story if we keep seeing images of the state of things hours ago. So TV — which ought to be in the fresh news business — should show us how fresh its images are. I know they’re likely loathe to do that. But this is news.
: UPDATE: On yesterday’s TWiT at SXSW, Leo Laporte made an excellent suggestion: appending the ! onto a hashtag. So a witness would use #jpquake! while the observer would use #jpquake and one could search for one or both. Brilliant, Leo. Others had suggested #!jpquake but that messes up the search. This appends a claim to be a witness.
Many people have asked in the comments (over and over) why geotagged tweets aren’t enough. Two reasons: First, many (most?) people don’t enable geotagging; I see very, very few geo tweets in my feed. Second, in rebellions against repressive regimes, pinpointing one’s location exactly is perilous. The ! convention claims location as much as writing about an event as a witness or participant does, without giving the authorities one’s exact location.