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Breaking News! Twitter and Facebook beat out the news sites (and Google+)

August 23, 2011

I first realized it when SEAL Team 6 picked off Osama Bin Laden. However, it was the East Coast earthquake that confirmed it, Twitter and Facebook rule the world of breaking news.

In the minutes after each news event broke, I was finding information out in the social media world far faster than broadcast television or the Internet news sites.

For the earthquake, within minutes I was able to gauge that the effects of the tremor could be felt from Durham, NC to Waterloo, Canada and as far west as Indiana thanks to my friends on Facebook. An hour later, none of my typical news sources (CNN, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, BBC, and Courier-Post) were able to give me any confirmation of the scope of the earthquake.

Evacuations in Center City, Philadelphia? Friends working in the high rises. 10 minutes later, the Philly.com Twitter feed.

A building collapse in Camden, NJ after the quake I first heard about from a Rowan professor, shortly thereafter, a Philadelphia broadcaster.

I checked CNN a few minutes into the quake, all I got was their yellow breaking news bar referencing a 5.8 earthquake in DC and felt in NY. At that point I already knew the tremors had been felt much farther than that.

And when I couldn’t get a hold of anyone because the cell phone service in the Northeast was overloaded, Facebook and Twitter to the rescue.

But what was missing from these Twitter and Facebook? Detail, official reaction, trusted news sources, confirmation. But that’s okay, I can wait for the news sources to catch up and give me the details, but in the meantime I have enough information to determine my emotional response to the situation. No reason to freak out. No signs of imminent damage. No reports of mushroom clouds.

So what about Google+? An hour after the quake I cam across one reference to the tremor in my stream. The next one, another hour later. In the meantime, some commentary on Google+ and a job ad for Google’s Dublin office (which by the way I will take in a heartbeat, I’d love to work in the country that birthed my surname.)

Google+ is still in its infancy, filled with tech heads (and apparently mostly West Coasters). Rapid response and a world scope are simply not hallmarks of its ability yet. Also, while it has 25 million users, it’s hardly ubiquitous. I’m sure in a few hours I’ll see some very long and well-written posts about how Google+ was useful during this news event. I’ll probably also see a few posts about how East Coasters can be forgiven for getting excited about a fairly mild earthquake. And finally I’ll see a few Google jobs ads that sound really cool, but you can only get hired if you’re a 24-year-old post-doc hipster.

Hmmm? What? Bitter? No…

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