Twitter Tuesday announced new search capabilities that give it the upper hand as a breaking news destination over basically every other news organization on the planet, from newspapers to cable networks to websites and everything in between.
When a new search begins to trend on Twitter, Twitter's new API will send the query to Amazon's Mechanical Turk service, where humans will categorize it to help make it more relevant to readers. Then Twitter can populate its Discover section with live, topical streams of news.
If they want to keep up, other organizations that exist to break news need some new ideas, and fast.
This development fills the one gap that Twitter can't cover with algorithms alone: context. Twitter already knows what terms and searches are popular, but it doesn't know what they mean. Why is "Big Bird" trending? Is there a good episode of Sesame Street airing right now? Did someone who created the show die? Or was the giant puppet used as an absurd example in a political debate? The answer to those questions determines where information about "Big Bird" should go, whether it's "television," "politics," or, I don't know, "death."
Twitter Is The News
This contextual step is critical for making a news destination relevant. And if Twitter itself can master relevance, what's the point of other news sites? They're slower, and they have less information about what's happening and what's interesting to people. News organizations had better start thinking about how they can continue to matter in a world where Twitter is the destination, not just a pipe for sending links.
As of right now, it still takes a lot of manual labor to get meaningful news out of Twitter. Journalists like me spend a lot of time sifting through Twitter and stringing the news together into a story that makes sense. That's why you go to a "news" site to read the news.
But Twitter is increasingly where breaking news emerges. That's just a fact. The instant something happens in the world, if there's a computer with an Internet connection nearby, someone is posting it on Twitter, and then the news industry reacts.
So if Twitter can now assemble the raw materials of breaking news into a meaningful place to see and understand what's happening anywhere in the world, on just about any topic, the instant it starts to matter to people, why would anyone get breaking news from another source?
How News Sites Can Stay Relevant
I already find my news exclusively on Twitter, but I'm an edge case as a journalist. I click links all the time, sure, but I don't care what site the links go to. I care only that they seem relevant to what I see happening on Twitter. These new Mechanical Turk-driven search topics will make relevance much easier to determine for the legions of people who don't mow their Twitter lawns as obsessively as I do.
What can news organizations do other than write for what's trending on Twitter and hope for clicks?
Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to write only about ideas that rise from connections that are hard for computers to make. The story has to get its meaning from the complexities and eccentricities of people. If there's nothing more to the story than the news itself, people are going to get it from Twitter.
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