The still-developing terrorist atrocity in Mumbai has seen the communications tool Twitter emerge as means for participants, witnesses, and the rest of the world to report on and react to a breaking news situation in a new and useful way. Reports from the ground in Mumbai via Twitter have been way ahead of both the traditional media -- newspapers and television stations -- as well as even the new media in reporting on what is happening there.
Twitter allows anyone with a cell phone or Internet connection to broadcast news to an audience -- sometimes an audience of dozens, but for some Twitterers an audience of thousands. Each Twitter account member can forward messages, which can multiply in a cascading effect the impact of important messages.
I took note of Twitter some time ago, but dismissed its utility for anybody other than the critically narcissistic. Fortunately, others were more creative, and have managed to develop Twitter as an effective means to network and communicate.
In the last month we've seen debates about how we can use Twitter as a marketing and network-development tool. Last week those of us who follow Twitter were talking about Shaquille O'Neal using Twitter to reach his fan base. Next week we'll be discussing how Twitter can change the way people learn of breaking and changing news stories.
The issues with citizen journalism -- accuracy and credibility -- are magnified when that journalism is filtered through a 140-character-limited Twitter post. It will be interesting to see how mainstream journalism adapts to the Twitter challenge.
For more on Twitter, see here.
Update: 15 minutes after I submitted this post, a number of Twitter feeds reported that Indian government officials have asked that the Twitter page for Mumbai be shut down, and that people stop submitting Twitter feeds about the emerging situation. Is this an attempt to manage the situation, or control the dissemination of information? Or perhaps a bit of both? (Or likely just a rumor, though the BBC picked it up and ran with it for some hours.)