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BLOG: Twitter's role in reporting Boston Marathon bombing shows ingenuity of users

Lorinda Brandon, Director of Strategy at Smartbear Software | April 19, 2013
Who could have expected that Twitter users would use the tool for such important purposes, all on their own volition?

I live in the Boston metro area, so forgive me if this week I come across as a bit reflective and not overly technical. The whole world has acknowledged the senselessness of the bombings at the Marathon this week, and we've received an outpouring of love and support (much like many other all-too-frequent occurrences in other locations). But it's hard to understand the nature of Patriot's Day in Boston unless you live here - it's a celebration of all things Bostonian, from the re-enactment of the American Revolution at dawn to the end of the home Red Sox game. And, in the midst of that, the Boston Marathon. We enter this day to celebrate. But this year, we are all weeping.

For many of us who were local and watching it unfold, it had an eerie similarity to 9/11 in that it was hard to tell what had happened, why it had happened, and whether it was really over or still unfolding. While it was so much smaller scale than that horrible day in 2001, it was still that same unsettled feeling in the face of ongoing tragedy and chaos. But as I compare the two incidents in my mind, it's not just the scale that is different - it is how we communicated and participated during the event.

My memory of 9/11 is crystal clear. I was in the office and word spread via phone calls first. As we all heard about what was happening, we found ourselves migrating to the televisions available in the office gym, watching two different stations as the world unraveled before our eyes. This time, on April 15, 2013, I was also in the office. But, as with most world events these days, I heard it first on Twitter. I did periodically go check in on the television we have in the kitchen, but the news there actually lagged behind the news on Twitter. Twitter has the advantage of real-time, on-the-scene updates that are tweeted and retweeted at a speed no newscast can keep up with. Add to that the heavy reliance on Twitter that government and police officials have developed, and you have all you need in the Twitterverse. In fact, when we watched the evening news, it was mostly a rehash of the photos and videos we saw first in tweets.

Originally, Twitter was just a quick way for an individual to communicate with a small group of users via SMS. When it launched publicly in 2006 as a way to send short, quick messages to self-designated interested parties, only the most visionary saw its potential. The appeal was immediately apparent to marketers, of course, especially after Twitter's 2007 marketing blitz at SXSW. It was like a resurgence of the telegram, only in digital form and without the overhead.


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