Twitter growth, Twestival, Phillip Schofield and Steven Fry

A bit of a microblogging round-up.

There’s been a bit of discussion about the Hitwise findings released by Heather Dougherty, that claim Twitter traffic surpassed Digg for the first time. OK, when I say discussion, it’s the normal coincidence of Techcrunch and ReadWriteWeb both jumping to analyse the same topic when it appears. (Having almost identical headlines didn’t help!).

And in the UK, it’s grown by 974% in 12 months! It’s now the 291st most-viewed website in the UK – with fastest growth among 35-44 year olds.
Apparently European CEO’s might not get Twitter, but it’s users do – as shown by the amazing growth of Twestival,  which has grown from a group of London-based Twitter users getting together, along with some gatherings in places like Toronto and Vancouver. The next one, on February 12, will now have 100+ cities around the world hosting events in aid of charity:water. And the first release of London tickets sold out in a couple of hours.

Stephen Fry is a British celebrity and icon, and to celebrate 50,000 following @stephenfry he’s set quite a challenge, which has definitely hit UK productivity today! (Via thatcanadiangirl). Entry is by submitting the best tweet using 50 letter Ls.

And speaking about celebs, one of the most mainstream TV hosts in the UK, Phillip Schofield, is not just on Twitter (@schofe), but verified himself by referring to Twitter live on the mid-morning chat show This Morning. (via PaidContent: UK). While I wouldn’t credit the host of This Morning and Dancing on Ice as the sole tipping point for Twitter becoming mainstream, it’s another big push of added momentum.

Twitter’s SMS service loses Canada. Now just U.S and India

It seems that Canada has joined the rest of the world in losing the ability to receive Twitter updates via SMS, as revealed on the Twitter Status Blog. As with the rest of the world, the blame is placed squarely at Mobile carriers:

‘We can’t afford to support this service given our current arrangement with our providers (where costs have been doubling for the past several months.)’

The post continues:

‘The ability to update Twitter over SMS will still be supported over 21212. But we know that this is only part of the experience and we want to make Twitter work in the way folks want … regardless of where they live.

There is a realistic, scalable SMS solution for Canada (and the rest of the world.) We’re working on that and will post more details on the Twitter blog as we make progress.’

It seems a little strange this appeared on the Status Blog, and not the Official Company Blog, which is what happened when we lost Twitter updates via SMS in the UK. And at the time, there was the promise of several new local SMS services across Europe – but I don’t think anything has been arranged yet, and to be fair, if you’re not being monetised or bought by Facebook, then the costs do start to add up:

‘Even with a limit of 250 messages received per week, it could cost Twitter about $1,000 per user, per year to send SMS outside of Canada, India, or the US.’

SMS is obviously a hugely profitable enterprise for mobile providers currently. And I doubt much will change on that front for some time – but hypothetically, with the rise of smart phones and access to social networks (and fortunately, Twitter and clients), could this a cause for even the start of a decline in SMS usage? Any mobile phone experts got any idea of the figures, and whether smart phone usage means less SMS?

Twitter shakes the ground under major news websites: How they have to adapt

It’s happened again. Yet again, an earthquake has occurred, this time in the U.S. – and yet again I found out about it from Twitter as it happened, rather than from one of the news websites minutes later. In fact, I’d even reported on it, and uploaded an image from Twitter to 140char.com before the BBC website had any coverage.

And when the BBC does cover it, look at the lack of any responses. Now compare that to the sheer amount of updates which occurred on Twitter, even during the quake itself.

As microblogging sites increase and users can upload almost instantly from mobiles, news websites need to respond in a far more proactive way. I know the BBC is UK based, but even American media like CNN were apparently late to the party.

For a while news websites have had increased competition, particularly from prominent blogs, but they still had the resources to be the first point for news, and the first place people headed for if they wanted to upload pictures and videos. One significant early stage of Citizen Journalism was the London Underground bombing in July 2005. But now people already have significant networks and reach to share thoughts, images, and video incredibly quickly with a potentially large circle of people without needing the news portal to distribute it. In fact, during 9/11, when traffic brought news websites to a halt, I was ignoring the television to use Instant Messaging and forums to chat with friends in the U.S and at large news organisations to find out what was happening.

And if Twitter or similar tools become mainstream, breaking news is over. You might still get a few minutes grace on embargoed content before it’s replicated throughout the world, but reacting to something just happening? By the time your assigned staff reporter is taking notes, or your Web Producer has been woken up, Twitter users around the world (Tweeple) are already reacting.

As far as I can see, there are a few options still left:

1. Stop autofeeding your late news to Twitter. Particularly when we already know about the earthquake, and it’s been on your website for ages. It highlights that you haven’t bothered understanding how it works. And it isn’t the first time. Earthquakes in China and the UK, Heath Ledger’s death…you got beaten before and you’ll get beaten again.

2. Do make sure all your reporters have decent mobile phones. And can update straight to a Twitter account without worrying about grammar, subbing, or waiting until you have a story to link to on your main website. It’s not about driving traffic, it’s about breaking news. That’s what journalism is about. Get back your reputation for breaking news, and people will respond. And then when you do release an in-depth analysis on the website, and aggregate information, you’ll have an audience which responds.

3. Start aggregating Twitter onto your site. It takes two seconds to set up a Twitter Search result. Put a space in your news template for RSS feeds, and use them to plug Twitter in as soon as something happens. Start collating all the notable Tweets, and speaking to the people behind them. You’ll get responses far quicker than making your reporter get out of bed.

Alternatively:

1. While your print product is already falling, and you’re coming to terms that things are changing a bit more quickly, microblogging takes away one of the major selling points of a major news company. You no longer have scoops, and because you’ve cut back to save costs in an uncertain time, you don’t have the staff or resources to file in-depth analysis and responses to breaking news quick enough to beat experts on blogs, and aggregators.

Don’t stop evolving halfway out of the swamp.

Not a cheerful post perhaps, but the internet evolves faster than any previous form of communication. It took a good 10 years or so for the real effect on the media, and the decline of print and television to be felt to the point major corporations and companies got scared and started really responding. But while the slow pace of change happens within the organisation, outside the pace of change is far quicker – and it’s always happening. There is no single answer to maintaining a sizeable presence on the internet unless it is to become an organisation that can respond quickly and efficiently to new challenges on a monthly basis – even if it means ripping up your website and starting again! Halfway measures will satisfy less and less people. And they’ll definitely be uploading their complaints in 140 characters.

Edit: Turns out the LA Times is running Twitter in a Technology article highlighting how well it works for news, which you can see here. Strange then, it isn’t integrated into their general news coverage? The Guardian putting Twitter on blogs is again, a tiny, tiny step in the right direction, but it’s a start I guess – even if it isn’t working at the moment!