Because I’ve done a small amount of advertising on Twitter, I’m part of their Twitter for Business mailing list. On that list, they asked me to be part of a survey about how I do my business and how I interact with social. You know, the typical stuff. In exchange for participating in the survey, I was offered a $10.00 payment to my PayPal account. Awesome! A little extra change, maybe for a little extra advertisement.

Today, I received my payment. And then, shortly thereafter, I received my payment. Again.

Being away from the office, I didn’t have a chance to check my balance to see if I’d just gotten the email twice or had, in fact, gotten a double payment. Then I just received this email:

Hi,

We need your help!

You may have accidentally received two $10.00 payments for the Twitter Businesses’ Social Media presence study from March 3rd to March 7th. If you have received a duplicate payment, if you could please refund it back to us that would be great! We made a mistake here and really appreciate your help. This was sent by Hugh@oneopinion.com. If you have any questions or need help, please e-mail us at memberservices@oneopinion.com. Thank you so much for your help here and have a great day!

Best,

The OneOpinion Team

Best,

Emily

So, does Hugh still have a job, or what? There’s got to be a lot of advertisers, and that’s a lot of money to double pay. Lucky for all involved, I’m an unnecessarily honest man. Besides, who needs that kind of bad Karma?

On Tuesday of this week, Twitter, the New York Times, Huffington Post and a raft of other websites suddenly found their traffic getting rerouted to servers Russia and Syria. The rerouting was due to a successful hack by a group calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army, a name that brings to mind proto-Goth synth bands of the 80’s. Service was restored to most sites quickly enough, but you may be wondering: what the hell even happened?

I’ve covered the ins-and-outs of DNS in the past in the context of a particularly-vicious malware attack a little over a year ago. But now seems like as good a time as any to recap, since after all, most of the media is too busy primping and preening over the importance or lack thereof in the New York Times to inform you.

DNS stands for Domain Name Service, and in short, it’s sort of an address book for the Internet. The pretty alphanumeric domain names we all know and love, like chocolateandtomatosauce.com, horney0ldbabes.org or rochesterhomepage.net, are not the addresses computers recognize. Computers navigate the web by using large numbers assigned to each other computer, often notated by four numbers separated by dots, like 127.0.0.1.

Someone, somewhere needs to map all those domain names to their numbers, and that’s where DNS comes in.

What happened in the case of Twitter, NYtimes.com and so forth is that the SEA hacked into the Australian company that carries the official registration of those domain names. By changing the number associated with the domain name, they ensured that anyone looking up those addresses would get the wrong information.

Most people probably never saw any disruption at all. That’s because most ISPs carry their own copies of DNS records, refreshing that data only periodically. In the short term, this was always a pretty low-level threat. But the point was probably more to cause disruption and panic than to do any real damage.

I think all of us 1 million or so users of Google Reader are pretty well pissed off right now. We rely on Reader to provide us the news content from the sources we’ve carefully culled over the years. Our folders, our feeds, our connection to the wider world of news. What to do?

Several competitor products are out there, particularly for mobile devices. But which to choose? Here is a quick list of a few options I’ve tried and my thoughts on them:

1. Feedly

Let’s get this one out of the way early. Feedly works. And yes, even CNN is reporting that this seems to be Feedly’s moment in the sun. Certainly, they came along at just the right time. I was actually looking for a different reader on Android when I stumbled upon Feedly a few months ago. And so far, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

Feedly provides a rich experience for your news. On mobile, it presents your content in “magazine mode,” which means that it will take a featured image for an article and present it full-screen, bled out, with the title over top. There are other views as well, and you can customize how each folder or feed presents: List, magazine or card view. All have their merits, and on the desktop version, you can get a straight-ahead Google Reader style list of headlines.

The down side of Feedly is that even with the list view, scanning the news isn’t really a possibility. This is an app for the reader, not for the browser: those of us looking to quickly populate our feeds with news our readers need will find this app a bit frustrating.

 2. Pulse

For those looking for a bit more automatic curation, there is Pulse. This app actually sifts through your RSS subscriptions, looking for the types of content you’re most likely to click on, things which are hot among other users and the most recent content to provide you with an up-to-date look at your news.

The good news is that Pulse definitely gives you fresh content. The bad news is that, well, it is algorithmic curation. It’s not necessarily the most accurate reflection of what you’ll find interesting: it is just a programmer’s best guess.

Also, for those of us who are using our feeds specifically to find those “deep links” and the roads less traveled, this kind of curation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. By picking the most popular stuff, Pulse is actually making our linking shallower by design.

3. Prismatic

In my experience, probably the height of both pretty display and curation is Prismatic. Whereas Pulse will rearrange your feeds for you, Prismatic is presumptuous enough to actually add in its own feeds that it thinks you’ll like. Oddly, I’ve found that it actually works quite well, filtering in new content I might not have otherwise seen.

But again: you spent a lot of time and trouble trying to get your RSS feeds in order. You know what you want to look at, in terms of news sources. That Prismatic adds new ones is not necessarily helpful to deep linking content.

4. Mix and match

Ok, so this isn’t exactly an app in itself. But if you’re looking for variety in your linking and reading diet, really, using a combination of all the above is probably the best bet.

Yes, you end up having to keep track of three different readers. The up side is that all three curate content differently, and that means lots of unexpected content from your primary sources. In fact, by working with each service regularly, you’ll find that each provides a unique window on the content you care about.

Out of the three, only Feedly allows you to view your feeds directly as a list, so you can still get that pure content feel. But I’m personally a big fan of changing perspectives for the sake of keeping the creative juices flowing.

Twitter lists are social curation!

RSS feeds are without doubt the best way to keep up to date on the news sources you like. But perhaps the most interesting way to keep up with the news that matters to your audience is to keep tabs on the people who drive the news. Twitter lists are a great way to allow the people who know your topics best to help you find the most interesting tidbits you might not have found anywhere else.

For example, I have a list populated with scientists, science bloggers and journalists, science professors and basically, all sciency peeps. There are a few celebrity types, like Neil deGrasse-Tyson and Bill Nye. But most people on this list are in the trenches, occasionally live-tweeting from obscure NASA conferences, doing research and writing their own peer-reviewed journals.

Unlike an RSS feed, which will be strictly links, this list gives me an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people who do the stuff my audience is interested in. When they do post a link, that link tends to be a much deeper read on current science news than I might have gotten from other sources. And when a large number of people on this list all tweet out the same article, I know I’ve got a really important read on my hands.

So, Twitter lists are a great way to create a social curation vehicle for the types of information you most want. Simply put together a list of people who all share common interests, and even if they don’t know each other, they will “up-vote” the most pressing issues in their world for you.

I’m going to miss Google Reader. I don’t think any of the above sources work quite the same as a solid RSS reader. But by widening my news search to include a mix of all these options has given me a fresh perspective on what I’m doing with content. And that’s a good thing, right?

The one thing Twitter provides its users that no other social network has been able to touch is instant connection. It takes barely any effort at all to send a tweet, telling the world and all your followers exactly how you feel about something. Football games, live news events, local festivals and anything else that can be experienced in the moment can be communicated on Twitter for everyone to share.

Now a new study by the Neilson Group and a company called SocialGuide proves that there is a direct, quantifiable correlation between the amount of chatter about a show on Twitter and the ratings that show receives across the non-Twitterverse.

It may not be the most noble of statistics. Certainly, many of us in the Twitter community would rather hear about our impact on politics or news. Our triumphs as a media community during natural disasters. Maybe even an Abby Wambach story. We might prefer less How I Met Your Mother and more Tahrir Square. But these things are soft targets, statistics are hard to come by, and the message Neilson discovered was straight-forward.

More chatter, more ratings:

 How well does Twitter align with TV program ratings? The recent Nielsen/SocialGuide study confirmed that increases in Twitter volume correlate to increases in TV ratings for varying age groups, revealing a stronger correlation for younger audiences. Specifically, the study found that for 18-34 year olds, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1% increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes, and a 4.2% increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1% increase in ratings for midseason episodes. Additionally, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35-49 year olds, reflecting a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences.

The report goes on to say that midseason ratings are even more closely reflected in Twitter chatter, which seems to suggest that if you’re still talking about it on Twitter, you must like it.

Is Twitter determinative of ratings? Or reflective of a wider interest? Does the fact that you’re talking about The Big Bang Theory on Twitter mean that you, as an influential member of your meat-based community, are turning your friends on to it? Or does the fact that you and your friends watch TBBT mean that you’re going to end up talking about it on Twitter more?

Either way, consider the Second Screen life to have officially begun in the minds of every television executive and entertainer out there. Look out Twitterinos: shit just got real.

Pew Internet Research put out an analysis of Twitter conversation and compared that to its own public opinion polling. The results of their analysis? From the headline, “Twitter Reaction to Events Often at Odds with Overall Public Opinion.”

Pew’s search and analysis parter, Crimson Hexagon, took a three-day sample of tweets which contained words or phrases relevant to a given hot-button news item and analyzed them for positive or negative terms as described in their methodology:

The data on Twitter comes from an analysis of all publicly available Tweets. The time period for each event varied, but none included more than three days worth of reaction. For each subject, multiple search terms were used to identify appropriate tweets. For example, to find messages commenting on President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Speech, Tweets were included if they appeared in the four hours following the start of his speech and used the words “state” and “union,” or “Obama,” or “SOTU.”

Unlike most human coding, CH does not measure each post as a unit, but examines the entire discussion in the aggregate. To do that, the algorithm breaks up all relevant texts into subsections. Rather than dividing each Tweet, paragraph, sentence or word, CH treats the “assertion” as the unit of measurement. If 40% of a story fits into one category, and 60% fits into another, the software will divide the text accordingly. Consequently, the results are not expressed in percent of Tweets, but rather the percent of assertions out of the entire body of stories identified by the original Boolean search terms.

But while we can argue about the efficacy of their methods (more on that later), the media seems to be willfully getting the results wrong. Check out a quick sample of the headlines:

Sample of conservative reactions by Twitterverse, at odds with the Daily Caller’s miopic understanding of reality. Source: Pew

This list even includes a majority of tech-savvy websites. The Daily Caller (ever the picture of reliable reportage) even took to interpreting the report as calling Twitter “a liberal, miopic, negative place.” This, despite the fact that the report clearly says that the Twitterverse occasionally breaks Conservative when public sentiment is Liberal. But there is a big difference between opinion on Twitter being “at odds” with general public opinion and not being a “reliable” indicator.

For a start, when 16% of Americans all share a common demographic bond – our affinity for Twitter – it should not be at all surprising that we share a common set of opinions. Neither should it be surprising that those opinions differ from a wider sample of the public.

Moreover, public opinion changes. It changes as people learn more about things and as facts present themselves. That very often takes more than three days for a lot of people. Twitter being heavily weighted to breaking news, tweeps have a tendency to be ahead of the curve.

We tweeps tend to “watch” the news unfold more or less together in real-time, so social reaction must also play its part. Twitter users have also been shown to be “influencers,” meaning we tend to voice our opinions to our friends more often than the average bear, you might say. It would be interesting to do the same sample, three days after a news break and then the following three days, to see if there is any change in the dichotomy between popular and Twitter sentiment.

But all of this presumes that Pew’s research is accurate. This is a very dicey affair, as indeed all public opinion polling is. But in this case, instead of speaking directly with tweeps, they’re using aggregation and analysis software to decide what is “positive” vs. “negative” or “conservative” vs. “liberal.” We are nowhere near a level of confidence in “Big Data” analysis of this type to consider this analysis anything other than hugely questionable.

The algorithms Crimson Hexagon uses would need to interpret tweets according to whether or not they’re really relevant to a given topic, whether the tweet was being sarcastic or some other form of humor, and whether the “negative” words are a function of genuine negativity or simple a reflection of language. Buffalo alone would be enough to give coders cold sweats, trying to interpret all that negativity.

And of course, it needs to be pointed out: Pew’s opinion polls do not reflect public sentiment any more accurately than Twitter, simply because Pew says they do. I am a big fan of Pew’s work – I cite it a lot, especially on (irony alert) Twitter. But by no means does this study reflect any kind of scientific fidelity.

Twitter users – especially power users – love their clients. We get attached to them, almost more than to Twitter in some senses. We rely on the look-and-feel of specific tools to do what we do on Twitter quickly and effectively, and we get pretty nervous when things change.

Such is the case with the recent news that Twitter plans on cutting off support for a couple of its more prominent client versions, TweetDeck AIR and TweetDeck Mobile:

In a blog post, TweetDeck, which was acquired by Twitter in 2011, said that it would be discontinuing support for its AIR, iPhone and Android apps, and the mobile apps would be removed from their app stores at the beginning of May. It also warned that continuing to use the apps until then could be problematic — they rely on an older version of its API which it will be conducting tests on in the future, which could lead to outages for users.

This announcement left myself and others in a small panic, wondering what we might do without our favourite client:

.. and so on. The problem is: the original article isn’t entirely clear what “desktop version” means and makes no mention whatever about the version most people currently use, the Chrome or FireFox extensions. For that, we connect the dot not connected in the original article and read the original blog post:

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been focused on building a fast and feature-richweb application for modern browsers, and a Chrome app, which offers some unique features like notifications. We’ve recently introduced many enhancements to these apps –– a new look and feel, tools like search term autocomplete and search filtersto help you find what you’re looking for more quickly, and automatically-updating Tweet streams so you immediately see the most recent Tweets. Our weekly web releases have been possible because we’ve nearly doubled the size of the TweetDeck team over the past six months (and we’re still hiring).

So clearly in the minds of those at TweetDeck at least, the Chrome and other extensions are here to stay. That will come as a comfort to a lot of Tweeps I know.

But this move is part of a wider move on the part of Twitter to focus the use of its API in more limited ways. It has been widely reported that Twitter wants to unify the experience of working with their product, which makes sense: as new users come online, the confusing panoply of clients that all look and function differently is an impediment to wider market saturation. Unifying the experience is great. For them.

Doing so, however, means taking our clients away from us. I’ve searched forever to find a decent Android client and settled on Plume. But I know Plume’s days are numbered, and Twitter’s mobile experience lacks the fluidity of managing columns of lists so I can monitor my news sources and friends effectively.

So the question still needs to be asked: if unifying the experience means cutting the power users whose content drives Twitter’s appeal off from the tools that allow us to do our thing, is Twitter also risking cutting itself off from the quality content that makes it worth reading?

Every once in a while, we go through this. For one reason or another, Twitter asks to reset your password. Typically, they only send out emails asking you to do this when the situation’s gotten pretty wide-spread, and per TechCrunch, that is exactly the case with Twitter’s last set of emails.

Here is a copy of what the email looks like:

Hi, [name]

Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter. We’ve reset your password to prevent others from accessing your account.

You’ll need to create a new password for your Twitter account. You can select a new password at this link:
https://twitter.com/pw_rst/…

As always, you can also request a new password from our password-resend page: https://twitter.com/account/resend_password

Please don’t reuse your old password and be sure to choose a strong password (such as one with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols).

In general, be sure to:

  • Always check that your browser’s address bar is on a https://twitter.com website before entering your password. Phishing sites often look just like Twitter, so check the URL before entering your login information!
  • Avoid using websites or services that promise to get you lots of followers. These sites have been known to send spam updates and damage user accounts.
  • Review your approved connections on your Applications page at https://twitter.com/settings/applications. If you see any applications that you don’t recognize, click the Revoke Access button.

For more information, visit our help page for hacked or compromised accounts.

The Twitter Team

The first thing that jumps out at me is: why the hell is Twitter sending out emails with links to reset your password? That’s like the phishing-est phish that ever phished a phish.

But what caused this problem in the first place? Well, the servers might have gotten hacked or something like that. But these are probably the least-likely scenarios.

The simplest answer is that some very popular web service that uses Twitter login was compromised. If you use Twitter to log into, say, Huffington Post and they subsequently get hacked, the permission you gave them to your account may be sufficient to allow them to tweet or DM on your behalf.

Another possibility is a wide-spread dupe site, such as those that fool users with “vanity phishing” DMs, may have gotten particularly active.

Regardless of whether this is an internal or external problem for Twitter, it is probably in your best interest to reset your password. Even if you haven’t gotten the email.

AND EVEN IF THIS EMAIL IS LEGITIMATE, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER CLICK LINKS IN EMAIL! Go to Twitter directly and reset your own password. Email links are just way, way too dangerous.

As usual for those of us on Twitter, our news feeds are the place to which we find ourselves glued in the Hurricane Sandy crisis. From useful information, to sometimes even more useful humor to words of encouragement and word that our friends and family are ok, Twitter provides instantaneous, ad hoc community that is simultaneously both in and out of danger. But two masters students at Rochester Institute of Science went a little farther in showing just how global concern for Sandy’s victims really is:

Currently, the app pins a tweet regarding Hurricane Sandy on the world map and displays it for 10 seconds. It then stores the message and location in a database, before displaying the next tweet.

“We want to collect a timeline of tweets from Sandy’s start to finish,” Williams says. “If everything holds up, we’ll have stored up to 150,000 geo-located tweets by the end of Oct. 30.”

The project is powered by tapping into Twitter’s public timeline and searching for tweets that have specific terms or hashtags. Since Twitter allows users to “geo-tag” their tweet – to give the precise geographical location they’re at when sending a tweet – the Sandy mapper is able to determine where on the planet each corresponding tweet comes from and place it on the world map. As new tweets come up, the map pans from location to location. The system isn’t always perfect: for example, someone who writes a tweet about “Sandy” as in someone named Sandy might appear on the map, even though they have nothing to do with the storm.

Check out the project yourself. My only request might have been that they embed Twitter Intents to the results, so you could RT a few. Very fascinating to just watch as tweets come up, regardless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hit the “publish” button on this post and quickly snap back over there to see it!

Do you use email notifications on your various social networks to keep yourself abreast of things? New followers on Twitter? Comments on your Facebook pages or pictures? Sophos has recently announced that they’ve discovered at least one new malware threat that exploits just this kind of traffic:

“Be wary of emails claiming to be from Facebook, and saying that you have been tagged in a photograph,” Sophos’ senior technology consultant, Graham Cluley said in a blog post today.

“SophosLabs has intercepted a spammed-out email campaign, designed to infect recipients’ computers with malware.”

Cluley highlighted how to spot the malicious email notifications by a tell-tale sign, as Facebook is misspelled as “Faceboook”, with three “o”s.

The misspelling of the name is probably a means to get around your anti-spam software.

But the real concern is this: whenever you start blending potential vectors for malware – email plus Facebook, for example – you’re doubling the chances of chaos reigning. That either email or Facebook are vectors for viruses is a given. Putting the two together is a recipe for disaster.

Neither is Twitter immune from this same vector. I’ve been in the habit of using emails to notify me of new followers and direct messages for a while, but I’ve begun to rethink that habit. You only need a reasonably well-fashioned phishing email with a link to follow a person to hook a dupe. And I have to admit that, as careful as I’ve always been with security, this has been a blind spot that I’ve taken for granted.

But then, Twitter’s “notification system” is basically non-existent, isn’t it? You can be notified of incoming DM’s if you’re on the web version, but clients including Twitter’s own TweetDeck have to wait in line to be informed of DM’s. Half the reason I have email notifications turned on is specifically because TweetDeck makes a legitimate direct message conversation a near impossibility.

If DM traffic were given a more instantaneous, priority access to the API, it would go much farther towards ending email notifications. For me, anyway, and I suspect I am not alone. In fact, a separate section in the API dedicated to *just* notifications of the type normally sent via email would be great. Currently, the only notification system in place is for tracking other users’ activities.

While it is far from a flawless plan, social networking sites would do well to consider ways of making sure email notifications are entirely unnecessary: find a way to make communicating with the platform entirely internal.

Anyone who has ever spoken to me knows I’m a product of my generation. A day without my smart phone is comparable to the day I was cut from my mother’s umbilical cord. I must have Spotify on any computer I use because silence is the devil. I own paper books – but they’re becoming dusty because I have a Kindle now. If you still use an AOL email address, I assume you’re elderly; if you still use a yahoo email address, I assume you live under a rock.  I multi-task like a champ, at all times keeping two browsers open with six tabs running on each to toggle between my work tasks and my personal branding and you better believe I will click off a website in under a second if I don’t like the fonts it uses.

I’ve always loved reading, and though I enjoyed George Orwell’s 1984 when it was assigned in high school, it was almost laughable to think of this supposed futuristic world taking place a year before I was even born. I hadn’t really given the book, or the premise behind it, much thought until this week when my friend told me she had quit Foursquare.

“I have to check in before my roommate gets home so he doesn’t steal my mayorship.”
“Yeah, I recently just lost all of mine.”
“How?”
“I quit Foursquare. Twitter, too.”
“Why?”
“I reread 1984. It really creeped me out.”

Light bulb. While I didn’t react with the same Big Brother fear that she did, I definitely got that feeling of everything coming eerily full circle. Facebook asks what’s on your mind. Twitter asks what’s happening. Foursquare asks where we are –and we tell them. 1984’s constant tabs on everyone was government mandated, but we voluntarily share everything and anything with anyone who cares enough to read it.

That’s okay, though – we have privacy settings we can select! Sure. But just how private are they? After I had accepted my position with my current employer and submitted my two week notice to my previous one, I updated my Facebook status with my exciting news. Two days later, I received an email from another company I had interviewed with, informing me they had wanted to extend a second interview to me, but found during their “standard social media search” I had accepted a position elsewhere and wanted to know if this was true. I double checked. All my privacy settings were set to friends only. Unless I have a friend working in this company’s HR that I was unaware of, there’s more than one way to find someone’s information if you really want to.

Privacy settings aside – what about the individual who chooses not to partake in social media at all? Well, that comes with the price of an attached stigma. In college, one of my internships told me they had checked to see if I had Facebook before interviewing me because if I didn’t have one, I wouldn’t have been offered the internship. Why? Because everyone has a Facebook account. If you don’t, you’re weird and behind the times.

The future of 1984 that George Orwell so vividly painted for us may now be 28 years in the past – but is it? Giving up all our info is voluntary, of course, but I’m sure I speak for many when I say I’ve become very relaxed and almost lazy about it. We all have things we’d never tweet, update, or check in with, but when I think about how open I am about the tiniest things, anyone, anywhere, could easily figure out who I am, what I’m about, and where I’ll be at any given moment- and I even use those fancy, new-fangled privacy settings available.

So knowing this, and being called out on it, am I likely to get be more mindful of what I do or don’t post on my social networks? Nope. Big Brother, feel free to keep watching. It’s Follow Friday, and I have a Twitter feed to catch up on.

 

So….. Gotten any direct messages on Twitter from me? If so, sorry. I was stupid and clicked a link I should not have.

In fact, the NZ Herald is reporting that Twitter “shut down” a scam meant to appeal to our paranoia – or in my case, irritated curiosity. Same difference, I suppose. The body of the messages say something to the effect of “Have you seen what this person is saying about you?” and includes a link. The link goes to some sort of application that presumably leeches your follower list and then spoofs your name in yet another direct message. And the cycle continues….

I’m as embarrassed as hell of course. I’ve only been telling people not to fall for this type of shit for over a decade, now. And I went ahead and fell for it. Mea culpa: I was stupid.

But here’s the *big* problem: since all of Twitter’s links are converted over to their new t.co domain, one link looks precisely the same as the next. There isn’t necessarily any way to tell a good link from bad.

On top of it being an unsafe situation for users, this also raises the responsibility level of Twitter for the content provided on their system.

But setting aside Twitter’s admittedly short-term troubles, this does sort of point out one of the major problems with the custom TLD system recently approved by ICANN. Ok, I know I just hit you with a ton of tech stuff. What do I mean?

Top Level Domains are like the .com, .net, .org that appear on the ends of web addresses. TLDs have previously been restricted to a very few choices, mostly the most common ones listed above and country-based TLDs like .uk. The ICANN is the body responsible for governing the provision of those names – if you bought a new domain name, you registered it with them, knowingly or not.

The new system allows virtually limitless TLDs, so Coca-Cola company could own domain.coke if they wanted to.

The trouble with this new system, from a security standpoint, is that while only I can own dragonflyeye.net, someone else could own dragonflyeye.nett. How would you know you’re clicking a link to my website unless you read very, very carefully?

The chaos, the phishing, the identity theft possibilities leave me speechless. And this one minor annoyance really should make people wonder: where is the trust in the new era of limitless domain names?

I’ve joked for a long time that there exists in Rochester a sort of “Twitter Doppler” reporting system for weather. When big storms roll into the Rochester area, you can accurately measure their passing simply by watching the #ROC hashtag for that few hours.

But as it turns out, Twitter actually is pretty good at tracking crises in real time and that fact is receiving some scientific mention today, as Nature reports that researchers find that in Haiti’s cholera outbreak, the direct reporting on Twitter was nearly as accurate as official reports.

In fact, they found the reports to be much faster. That’s the least we could have expected, of course. But on the average, they found those faster reports more accurate, which is surprising even for those of us who believe in Twitter’s power as a communicator.

There are a few necessary caveats, of course. Twitter reports will likely be urban-biased, since wealth is largely urban-biased. Also, to the extent that journalists are the drivers of social media reports – a variable not defined in the original article – they will also be urban biased.

But it seems to me that official reports are at least as likely to have the same bias, since especially in more remote locations, rural life is difficult to get to. Moreover, official reports often have political biases for which we cannot necessarily account or make predictions. That social media was able to shed some light on the situation raises the question of what might happen in the context of a more closed society than Haiti.

Twitter data accurately tracked Haiti cholera outbreak : Nature News & Comment.