Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poynter Searching For 'Early Warning' Social Media Tool

The Poynter Institute is dedicated to helping journalists do a better job of dining, sourcing and reporting the news. So it makes sense that they were among the first to recognize the importance of social media as a news gathering resource, and now are looking at ways of making that process easier.

A post this morning by Steve Myers talks abut the need for a new social media 'search' tool that would provide journalists with a way to find the first social media reports of a news event (say, a single Tweet by some random person who happened to witness what was going on) then track that blurb back to the original source so they attribute it and possibly conduct an interview with the person who posted it.

Myers cites a project by Rutgers University and Microsoft on a new tool called the 'Seriously Rapid Source Review'. The tool would help journalists identify a specific relevant Tweet, filter out all the ReTweets and superfluous information and direct them to the specific source of the original post.

This would be a great tool for journalists and anyone who uses social media to communicate important messages, either for public service or for profit.

Unfortunately, so far, the mega social media sites have done little to provide an adequate solution for the problem of "search". There are various tools that can conduct searches on some social media sites but they are mostly hit-or-miss and do little filter results. There have been promises made by independent companies that they can provide a solution, but these too are more failure than success.

Social media is rapidly becoming the most oft-used communication tool on the planet. This was true once of ordinary telephone service yet no one considered creating an adequate search ability for telephone conversations, primarily due to privacy concerns. And even if some departments of the U.S. government did have such a tool it was not made available to the general public.

Social media is different, however, because this information is publicly traded; it is open to anyone with an Internet connection and there is no expectation of privacy. So a search tool would be well within existing privacy laws, yet still we do not have one.

Part of the problems has to do with the fact each of these networks is its own private entity, and usually views the other social media networks as their direct competitor. They are unlikely to want to create a one-size-fits-all solution because that would mean sharing their information with everyone. For an independent company to make a serious search engine work they need the social media companies to by into the idea, or, try to sift through the public data one piece at a time, creating algorithms to juggle all the different sites and the abundance of information.

Eventually such a tool will be created. Perhaps at first just to assist one particular sector of our society, like journalists, but eventually will be made available to everyone. because we all want to know what's being said, when and by whom, we just don't have a decent way of doing it.


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