A remarkable 24 hours in the life of Twitter.
On Tuesday endless rumour and speculation as tweeters traded hot tips and second-guesses about the composition of the England World Cup squad.
Fast forward to Wednesday and the same network is pushing out potentially life-saving updates on the trail of a killer on the loose in Cumbria.
As a Twitter novice, still to sort out my iPhone app, I’d been picking my way through the various people, lists and trends as I tried to get an idea of what’s good and what’s bad in social media. The events of the last few days have crystallised a few points.
Tuesday became tedious, especially if you monitored Twitter alongside outlets like Sky Sports and the various BBC message boards.
Football fans almost by nature are always eager to demonstrate some inside knowledge. Their teacher was Fabio Capello’s English tutor. The local pub landlord was in the villa next door to Darren Bent on holiday. Their postman went to school with Theo Walcott – in which case shouldn’t he still be at school?
But very quickly the mainstream media took over the whole show. Wherever there is a news vacuum you can expect the media to fill it, especially if it gives them half a chance of embarrassing the FA.
It’s hard though to see that the FA did anything wrong here. Capello was right to advise the omitted players first that they would be starting their holidays early. The FA were surely right to announce the final squad on their own website rather than with an old-fashioned press release.
It didn’t help that the site crashed, but that wouldn’t have deterred the army of national newspaper football writers, all eager to break the latest news from their secret sources. Could those sources just perhaps, possibly include potential members of the England squad newly-equipped with lucrative media contracts?
Wherever it came from, the end result of an intense bout of Tweet-upmanship was that many Tweeters were pleading for mercy, begging to be left with their own thoughts while they awaited the official announcement.
But if the media intrusion detracted from the fun of making football predictions it came into its own as events unfolded on Wednesday.
Sometimes the news is just too important to be kept under wraps until the next edition. Sometimes the professional desire to dig for an exclusive angle is outweighed by the urgent need to let people know the basics.
This was one of those occasions; people had to be told what was happening in Cumbria, and the mainstream media took the lead. What made the difference was the content of the messages, eschewing the “crazed killer on murderous rampage” approach in favour of information that could actually help people – location of the incidents, description of the car, registration number.
The ability to delivery such concise, important and timely information in turn raises concerns about clutter. You don’t want those messages delayed by comment, quips or even condolences.
Above all the information has to be accurate – don’t confuse Gosforth in Cumbria with Gosforth, Tyne and Wear, don’t say the car is green if it’s grey. In such circumstances, if in doubt, don’t Tweet at all.
Remember, if our sophisticated social media had been around in the 1800s Mark Twain would probably have said: “A Tweet can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”