On Thursday morning (US Pacific Time), March 12, 2009, a piece of debris came close enough the International Space Station to require the astronauts to take refuge in the Soyez module, just in case there was a collision. In the end, the debris passed by without incident.
I experienced this event almost entirely through twitter. This essay is to share my experience about how this is an example of ways in which somebody can follow news in a format completely different from conventional news reporting. This experience is, obviously, peculiar to me, in that only I follow my set of twitter users, and this is my personal reaction to it. However, I believe that this kind of process is starting to occur for many more people and it changes the way those people will use conventional news reporting...
And Phil Plait: Thoughts on breaking news and Twitter:
The near hit of the ISS and a piece of space debris was quite the sensation this morning. It's given me some things to think about.
First, as DaveP points out, the mainstream news hardly even had time to put up a note about the potential collision until, in many cases, the whole thing was over. Yet on Twitter we were right on top of it. I have Tweetdeck (a Twitter reader) always open on my Mac desktop, so I constantly see the feed. I saw Nancy Atkinson tweeting about it, and immediately started looking around for news (going to NASA TV helped). I started tweeting about it myself, and sending people Nancy's way to get info too.
Basically, by a few minutes before the event itself, thousands of people on Twitter were already getting the blow-by-blow.
When I first heard of Twitter, I thought it was useless. Then a gunman held two people hostage at Johnson Space Center, and I tweeted info as I heard it. People really liked that, so I started tweeting Shuttle launches and landings, and people liked that too. What I've discovered is that Twitter is an awesomely useful tool for rapid dissemination of information. And as we saw with the fireball, it sends out misinformation rapidly, too.
I'm not sure what to do about that, except to try to have the ear of people with lots of followers, and send them the correct info. The more folks who hear it, the more who will "retweet" it, and the faster we can step on rumors.
So that's one problem with Twitter. But there's another.
Twice now I've received complaints that during these events, I tweet too much. That's an interesting thing. We're talking breaking news, and Twitter, we've seen, is profoundly useful in those situations. As news comes in, it gets out. Under normal circumstances, I don't tweet that much, so that's what people expect. When an event happens, though, I will increase my frequency by a factor of five or more.
I can see where that might irritate someone who follows me. But what can be done? I want to make sure that I'm getting information out as I find it out, and that means lots of updates. I certainly don't want to tick anyone off, but what other choice is there? Ignore the news? That doesn't work either.....
It's obviously going to take the space station or some other valuable orbital property getting hit and seriously damaged before they send up the trash truck to clean up space.