Live coverage on Twitter – useful or just plain annoying?

My live coverage of the Investigative Journalism Goes Global conference seemed to polarise opinion among the Twitterati. The Guardian’s Neil McIntosh and Charles Arthur, the BBC’s Bill Thompson, and Pete Ashton all unsubscribed from my updates – and those were just the ones I know about.

At the same time, however, a number of other people tweeted their thanks for the coverage, including Mark Comerford, Alison Gow, Nick Booth and Mark Hamilton.

Summed up in two tweets, the debate went something like this:

nmcintosh: Sorry @paulbradshaw – Twitter isn’t the place for liveblogging. Am unsubbing.”

gmarkham: @paulbradshaw I like it. easy enough to ignore those that don’t tweak something in the mental wiring.”

But was this “liveblogging”? For me, it wasn’t. If I was liveblogging, I’d do it on a blog. Perhaps you could call this livemicroblogging.

Why didn’t I liveblog? Well: been there, done that. Where would be the learning in it? I wanted to experiment with mobile phone journalism, and around the potential conversation that could be had (and that liveblogs don’t do as well) via Twitter. Here were some of the tweets that people sent:

“davidcushman: @paulbradshaw what social media does he use? [to keynote speaker John Pilger]
davidcushman: @paulbradshaw investigative journalism is the only journalism – discuss?
amonck: @paulbradshaw Little conference reading for you – sorry I can’t make it, shud be some City folk there
amandachapel: @paulbradshaw | De-professionalizing journalism doesn’t just reduce cost, it eliminates the genre.
stevebridger: @paulbradshaw I spent 6 months on – newspaper journos engaged with it. Would use Twitter now
lalorek: @paulbradshaw Yes we do see ourselves as part of the fourth estate. Many of us believe in investigative journalism. Check
lalorek: @paulbradshaw or some of the new models emerging like or or and many more.

Twitter lended the conversation an immediacy and access that liveblog comments simply don’t (although CoverItLive provides a halfway house).

The problem? Twitter wasn’t sending me @replies.

Well, at least it was working at all.

Things fall apart

I love things going wrong. It makes for some very useful lessons. Here are just some:

  1. @replies were not reaching me – I did tweet this early on but overlooked the fact that not everyone will have seen that tweet. Solution 1: keep asking for direct messages; Solution 2: set up a twitter account taking the RSS feed of a Summize search for @paulbradshaw and feeding that through Twitterfeed. Then subscribe to text messages from that feed. Sadly Twitterfeed restricts you to a maximum of five tweets, only arriving every half hour, so there will be some limit/delay to the conversation.
  2. The venue had no 3G connection or open wifi, which meant I had no internet or email access even from a mobile phone – so liveblogging was not technically possible anyway (it also meant my hopes of using livestreaming tools Qik or Bambuser bit the dust). Solution: arrange to text a blogger elsewhere.
  3. Twitter overkill – yes, this must have been bloody annoying for some, and I should have set up yet another separate Twitter account for my live coverage, as Amy Gahran has (thanks Jay Rosen). But if you only have one mobile this runs the risk of you only getting messages directed at one of your Twitter accounts. In that instance, I could rely on my users to just switch me off for a while – perhaps even direct them to Twittersnooze, which will do it for you (thanks Dan Thornton and Jon Bounds).
  4. I also should have hashtagged the tweets – at the time I decided not to because no one else was covering this, but for those coming into the coverage mid-stream, a tag like #IJGG would have sent a semantic signal that this was part of event coverage.

A final point: it’s well worth investing in a bluetooth keyboard for your mobile phone (no, I didn’t do all of this with my thumbs) – oh, and the ‘Cmd’ button is very useful indeed.

Let me know what you think about live coverage on Twitter – or take the online poll.

13 thoughts on “Live coverage on Twitter – useful or just plain annoying?

  1. Kat - plasticsnow

    If I’m honest then I’d prefer it if people set up a Twitter account for doing conference coverage….whether it be one account that they use for all events if they cover lots, or perhaps set up an account specifically for one event e.g. paulijgg
    If the person then tweeted that accounts details then interested followers could add that account for the day and your normal followers don’t get bothered by the additional noise.

    I can live with it though, mostly because I’m a scanner with tweets anyway. Some people do struggle to scan though (as is being shown with Plurk) so for them I think it could be more of an issue.

    An interesting point, probably not a very helpful answer from me though lol

  2. Charlotte Carey

    Someone else said to me, but it kind of rang true – ‘it’s like having someone really noisey at the party’.

    It’s a tricky one because it is probably useful for some folks following you but for others it’s just feels like you’re being swamped in other peoples stuff. Like @Kat – plasticsnow I can live with it as I scan/ignore etc. But if it was to happen to often I’d unsub too.

  3. Antonio

    I think Twitter should be for snippets of information, not a stream of it. Just imagine that you’re sending it to just one person. Would they appreciate receiving 30+ text messages?

  4. Pete Ashton

    My issue was I tend to work late into the night so don’t get up and check Twitter until the afternoon. Usually this involves going back 5 or 6 pages. When you were gushing like a broken hydrant I had 10 pages of just you and not much else so I had to unfollow to make things a little more useful.

    A mature Twitter (either done by them or someone else) will have refinement and filtering tools in place (no more than 10 tweets per hour per user, for example) and I’d be happy to pay a premium for these. In fact I think this is where Twitter can make money – sell services that make the service more useful but keep the current stuff free to ensure a critical mass of users.

    Anyhoo, in short, a separate account for monster-tweet sessions please!

  5. @bereteando

    I know it sounds kinda stupid ask Twitter for features, but it would be nice if users would be able to open channels – so tweets sent to this channel would not show up in public timeline, but somewhere in the user’s page. I think Twitter is a good tool for this coverage and there’s a lot of people doing it with good results – but being limited to 10 page browsing (when lucky) for old tweets, each time there is a live microblogging I have to unfollow the user in order to reach all the messages I lost – and follow again later.

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  7. Ricky Treon

    A class I took at the University of Texas livemicroblogged some events, and the potential for it to be very useful is definitely there. Of course, we created our accounts for school/work purposes only. Therefore, everyone who subscribed to our threads were expecting all the livemicroblogging and nobody complained about the amount of text messages or pages of tweets. It definitely would have sucked to get all those tweets if I wasn’t also working the event. Either way, livemicroblogging with twitter it’s an exciting idea. (I love writing livemicroblogging, btw, great word)

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  9. brenda

    Didn’t bother me at all, I did zone it all out though. One of the real charms of Twitter is its eclecticism, so I have no problem if someone wants to go wild from time to time. Can understand it if it bothers others though. Nothing wrong with them temporarily de-following is there? Did they all come back?

    This is a marvellous quote: ““amandachapel: @paulbradshaw | De-professionalizing journalism doesn’t just reduce cost, it eliminates the genre.”

    /me goes to find + follow amandachapel

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