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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 16, 2009 @ 9:02 am

    Twitter? Twipe? Or Am I not Getting it?

    Harry McGee

    This is a little off-subject.  I joined Twitter recently. I wanted  to explore its possibilities for political commentary.

    The site has been hyped unmercilessly. And the whole idea of a mini blog did sound appealing. And had not  Barack Obama and British actor Stephen Fry taken the medium to new heights?

    This morning’s report by Elanor Burnhill on Morning Ireland confirmed why it doesn’t really do it for me. The 140 character message is very good for telling people what individuals are doing right now (Stephen Fry is stuck in a lift, or is in a plane heading towards Japan) but pointless when it comes to imparting what’s what in politics.

    In the IT, we tend not to personalise our blogs, ie restrain ourselves from focusing on the subjects we know and love best. Posts saying ‘on way to Tullamore to do doorstep interview with Cowen’ just don’t do it for me. The information is so mundane as to render it useless. It takes time out of a very busy working day. And it just seems, so pointless.

    Granted, there are times of high drama and unfolding events when conceivably they may be of some us. But giving updated accounts of politics can sometimes be like describing the daily activities of a tortoise.

    So, sorry, I just don’t get it. It is another alternative to social networking, people giving breaking news about their lives or making small-scale observations about small-scale things.

    Perhaps I haven’t explored it enough. But the quality of information (as opposed to quantity) on Twitter and on social networking sites like Facebook isn’t high. They are all about personalising, ie me-oriented. Even brand Barack is presented like that on Facebook. Check out the Facebook site for Barry’s Tea (which somebody told me last week has over 2,000 ‘friends’). It can only work on Facebook if it is presented as a human being and people address it as such. And even then it’s boring. There is an addictive quality to Facebook. But like gaming machines you quickly learn the futility of it. You can’t stop yourself from logging in and then you discover that the only update is that somebody you don’t really know has offered you a virtual beer (and you don’t even drink, virtually or in real life!)

    And it’s not that Deaglan and I are self-effacing (our egos are so big that it’s sometimes hard to squeeze into the office we share). But Twitter doesn’t pass the our quality tweshold. Am I wrong?

    Can Twitter work for politics?

    • Gav Reilly says:

      Perhaps it might not work for political journalists (though I think for freelancers who don’t have the security of a newsroom, it can be a very good way of getting hold of news very quickly), but for the actual politicians themselves it should frankly be mandatory.

      Unfortunately in Ireland we don’t have a great culture of having our TDs and Councillors blogging (while most might have their names on one, they don’t really write blog entries, so much as recycle press releases), and only one TD (Ciaran Cuffe) is on Twitter. If Twitter does begin to take off more amongst the rank and file of Ireland, it couldn’t be more imperative for our elected reps to jump on the same bandwagon and help to bridge the gulf between themselves and their constituents.

      John Culberson is the best example – he’s a Congressman (R-TX) who keeps a very active Twitter account at http://twitter.com/johnculberson. And while it might occasionally only keep tokenistic entries, at least letting people know what they’re doing is a start. I’m from Meath West and I’d love if Mary Wallace or Noel Dempsey would Tweet and tell me that they’re on their way to a Cabinet meeting where they’re “going to try and tackle the Financial Regulator problems headon”, for example.

      But anyway, to your main point – I do think that with establisment in the field of journalism renders some things like Twitter fairly redundant. People who have been in political journalism for ten or twenty years will have enough contacts to know a story before it hits the newsstands. For the regular joe soaps like the rest of us – or for people trying to break in but not having an endless resource of newswires – Twitter represents a promising and adaptable new way of finding things out very quickly.

      I’ll finish with this example – if you go to the official Twitter Search page (http://search.twitter.com/), you’ll see the ten most-Tweeted topics right now. The top one is #blackout – and if you click it you can discover about a citizens’ initiative in New Zealand against potential changes in copyright law. Is that the sort of thing we might have heard of? No. But is it the sort of thing that might trigger similar moves worldwide that could ultimately prove to be a big deal? Very possibly.

    • Markham says:

      Politics.ie had a great Twitter feed during the last election, providing minute-by-minute updates on counts, etc, that were texted to my phone in Sydney.

      Its benefits in politics and in breaking news are not found in the depth of content, but rather in its immediacy, hence its huge popularity during the US Presidential race.

    • Barra says:

      I think labour are using it quite well while the greens have started to. Labour use it to simply say “Gilmore about to ask Cowen why he hasn’t done x in leader’s questions [link to live feed]“. Its useful for just tipping off people when something is happening or where they can find something useful. Sharing links with a large amount of people is one use particularly when live streaming (both on RTE and oir.ie) is begining to come into its own properly.

      Once the network is properly built up in Ireland I think it can have a major impact on politics. Assuming people become more and more connected theit can be incredibly

    • Barra says:

      I think labour are using it quite well while the greens have started to. Labour use it to simply say “Gilmore about to ask Cowen why he hasn’t done x in leader’s questions [link to live feed]“. Its useful for just tipping off people when something is happening or where they can find something useful. Sharing links with a large amount of people is one use particularly when live streaming (both on RTE and oir.ie) is begining to come into its own properly.

      Once the network is properly built up in Ireland I think it can have a major impact on politics. Assuming people become more and more connected then they are now (checking the internet on their phones etc. which is quite likely if unfortunate) it can be incredibly useful for organising. For example, “J Gormley is canvassing tonight at 7pm. Meeting at x. Wrap up warm”. Its equivalent to texting mass numbers at no costs. When twitter initially started out it sent you texts for free for all your subscribed “follows”.

      its a fair point about the depth of commentary that it encourages, but I think its potential lies much more in the organising and sharing of links and news.


    • Harry says:

      Thanks for instantaneous and informative tutorials! Really Illuminating! I can now see that it does have benefits for logistics and for politicians to get out key messages about their activities or new policies.
      I haven’t yet come across a political commentator or journalist, though, who’s using it regularly.

    • Harry says:

      And in total contradiction etc… just used my twitter site to post a message saying this blog is up. Felt it was necessary in the interests of consistency.

    • MJ Murp says:

      Harry I see your colleague Elaine Byrne is now on twitter. I’m not sure though if twitter will run its course like other social networking sites are now begining to?

    • Suzy says:

      I use twitter to receive and pass on information regarding current affairs – if I’m watching live Dail feed or hear other breaking news for example – i’ll pass it on. I also use it frivolously i will admit – to let off steam and status update….

      Irishelection.com used it in 2007 when twitter was in its infancy to pass on info about tallies and other news to subcribers around the country – this was when you could receive texts. Now more people have iphones and blackberrys and can use twitter apps on phones to read what is happening.

      For people in work who don’t have access to radio or TV i know twitter feeds are important if wanting to follow what is happening – e.g. morning Bertie announced he was leaving, budget day etc.

      In the US and to a lesser extent UK it is being used by both journalists and politicians. Live tweeting from campaign trail is now turning to live tweeting from White House or town hall meetings by several journalists. (@anamariecox specialises in it) US Senator Clare McCaskill is using it from inside caucus meetings on stimulus package and from Senate floor… Downing Street press office use it a lot to communicate what UK prime minister is up to. Channel 4 newsroom use it extensively to comment on what is coming up and also ask followers for opinions.

      Ciaran Cuffe has tweeted from the Dail chamber and tipped people off to things they might be interested in – much more possibilities on this sort of use.

      It’s not all about talking about what one had for dinner or name dropping and navel gazing. You just have to trial and error it and deal with ‘noise’ as you wish!

    • Slab "Murphy" says:

      Hacks twitter too:
      (ben smith of politico)
      (ambinder of The Atlantic)

      Being the only journalist in the room for Cowen’s I Have A Dream seems to be what Twitter was made for.

    • Alexia Golez says:

      Harry, just re: political journalists on Twitter. I think you’ll find that more and more are joining. It’s not just a preserve of technology journalists any longer.

      The Telegraph ran a piece last week on how Washington journalists are adopting Twitter. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/toby_harnden/blog/2009/02/13/twitter_taking_off_among_washington_journalists

      PR Blogger lists UK journalists on Twitter.

      The momentum is definitely moving to Ireland. More politicians using it will offer further incentive for journalists to engage and vice-versa. As with all things, the US and UK are light years ahead of us.

    • Keith says:

      The Labour twitter account has been going for nearly two years now, its used for all sorts of things including linking to things happening in the Dáil, key points of speeches, events, pics on Flickr, giving people sneaky peaks of events/policy docs.

      At conference it was used to tell people to come into the hall, to describing the atmosphere to highlighting particular lines in Eamon’s Sat evening speech.

      The list of its uses is endless.


      The same goes for yourself Harry, it can used to link to things, to ask people questions, even to just connect with your readers, which in itself is invaluable.

    • @shane_woz_ere says:

      Twitter is the Marmite of social networking sites. You either get it or you don’t (I think). It’s not everyone’s cuppa. In my brief experience of it I noticed it’s abuse by the boaring or mundane, the egotistical and the celebrity stalkers (all categories which I stray into at times, I must confess.)

      But I use the site as a stream of consienceness, so to speak. Casual observations on the world around me; otherwise forgotten snippets of my life. I enjoy reading other’s minor observations but if they are not interesting they are also not ever long enough to really bother me.

      As for politics I don’t think that Twitter itself can lead to long debates but posting links to blogs (such as this one), brief accounts of news stories etc and breif opinions allow followers to follow their own line of enquiry.

      The restictions of Twitter can often force you to be creative in your brevity (as much, I think, as it can cause you to dumb down) but in the same way blog’s can often lead to people spending far too much time waxing lyrical. A perfect example of, possibly, could be this monotonous reply, proving the point that some people are probably best left reduced to 140 characters!

    • Alexia Golez says:

      Telegraph’s blogs by the way, not the paper :)

    • Deaglán says:

      Harry: We’re sharing a blog, now people know we share a room. What next? Civil Partnership?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, and how you’re both commenting in the same post. I’m sure Jean Claude Van Damme said something about how the same matter cannot occupy the same space!

      Twitter has its uses but there is a considerable element of overhype at the moment. There is a fine line between evangelising and fundamentalism, and technology folks are sometimes worse than political people for overselling the next big thing. A bit like wikipedia its main use in my mind is not on its own but as a pointer for further digging. It’s good for alerting people, providing a heads up about an event but any content of real depth has to exist elsewhere.

    • Shane Hegarty's Doppleganger says:

      “What next? Civil Partnership?”

      What would Yeats say?

    • Deaglán says:

      All things can tempt me from this craft of blogging:
      One time it was a woman’s face, or worse –
      The seeming needs of my fool-driven land;
      Now nothing comes but readier to the hand
      Than this accustomed toil.

      (Adapted from W.B.)

    • Harry says:

      Oops. Maybe I should not have publicly revealed that Deaglan and yours untruly shared a room. It’s driven the poor man to poetry. We are on the edge of the precipice of the cusp on this one…

    • Deaglán says:

      I’m not your only fan Harry. Judy Garland even did a song about you as follows:

      I am here to state
      I’m here to relate
      To explain
      and make it plain that:
      I`m just wild about Harry
      and Harry’s wild about me;

    • Barra says:

      What happens when cabinet ministers tweets from inside cabinet meetings? http://tinyurl.com/bvx2jd

      Get a telling off from the prime minister apparently.

      The blog is great btw Harry & Deaglán. Particularly the posts on how the stories come together. Its something that journalist’s blogs can really lend to – going more in depth then an article can ever hope to. I heard Mark Little talking about the potential for posting full transcripts and recordings of interviews etc. on the Prime Time “blog” (or page on the RTE website rather) as opposed to the cut and cleaned versions that are aired. Anyway, keep up the great work.


    • Dan Sullivan says:

      And oul’ Hitch did a movie with a very fetching short-haired Shirley MacLaine about The Trouble with Harry.

    • Deaglán says:

      Ah, you’re an Old Movie buff like myself, Dan. Ye can’t bate them. And don’t forget Harry Lime, the Orson Welles character in The Third Man with his famous line, “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

    • Connor says:

      Twitter is useless, let me update my status- I just typed this!

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Are Harry and Deaglán really the same person? Is one just the mild mannered alter ego of the rampant super-ego other?

      Hey, maybe there could be even more of them hiding behind the bylines? That might explain the monotheistic political viewpoint.

      Is there any evidence that they have ever actually been seen in the same room AT THE SAME TIME? Tweeting may be the only way to out him/them …. all Irish Twimes journalists should tweet for a week just so we can be sure.

      And its not just journalists: is neo-liberal appologist Tony Allwright a.k.a. Patrick Connelly?

      Maybe Tweeter has a use after all?

    • Deaglán says:

      You clever fellow! You’ve rumbled me/us. Now I don’t know if I’m Darry or Heaglán.

    • Harry says:

      I’m going to see how it goes on Twitter. I might have finally discovered my true level. To BetterWorld Now: You’ve spotted Deaglan’s rampant super ego too!

    • I have read some comments, I believe given time like every new network Twitter will be valuable to everyone in news media also to other people as a form of recreation & something to give ordinary people every where an interest in communication & friends. Yours, Lyndon Sullivan

    • Like all new things that have gone global,it will take time to asses the potential of Twitter,& how it will impose on our lives,i.e. TV. Camcorders , Dig Cameras 3D movies etc.In 3-6Yrs it will find its own niche for Media etc.Yours, Lyndon Sullivan . @lindano on twitter.

    • VICKI says:

      Amazing job! will visit!!

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