Techmeme Confirms Twitter Is News, But What About the Noise?

Techmeme, the technology-news aggregator that is like CNN for many geeks and tech fans, has given its seal of approval to the idea that Twitter is a real-time news network — founder Gabe Rivera announced today that tweets will now be highlighted as headlines on the site, if they meet his newsworthiness criteria, and even Twitter messages that refer to a breaking news story can make it onto Techmeme if they are noteworthy in some way, or posted by influential users. But will this new feature provide the site with more news to choose from sooner, or will it overwhelm the service with noise?

I admit that my first response to the news (which I saw on Twitter, naturally) was that it didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense. It seemed a little like printing text messages on the front page of the newspaper, in some ways. Much like Twitter, text messages are for chatting and banter, while the front page of a paper is where the important headlines and story excerpts are supposed to go. And Techmeme is very much like the front page of a newspaper, except it’s a newspaper that is devoted solely to technology, and it is updated minute by minute, and sometimes even second by second. Wouldn’t mixing an informal chat-oriented medium like Twitter mess up the headline aspect of the site?

In looking at the current example of the feature, which is Rivera’s own tweet followed by a lot of @ replies, it does seem quite noisy. There are dozens and dozens of comments of 140-character or less attached to the original, and none of them really add a lot to the conversation (including mine, I confess). Or rather, some of them might add something, but it’s really hard to tell which ones, or to sort through them all looking for meaning. On Techmeme’s sister site Mediagazer, where tweets are mixed in with blog headlines, it’s hard to tell what is a tweet and what is a link to a blog post, which presumably would have more to add than just a single offhand comment.

That said, however, Rivera makes a good case in his blog post that tweets can in many cases be news, or make news — such as an announcement from a company that is launching something, or a rumor posted by a celebrity. Another example the Techmeme founder uses is the tweet from former Twitter engineer Alex Payne that seemed to signal unpleasant changes coming for third-party Twitter developers, and was eventually followed by exactly that. In that case, however, it’s arguable that the tweet only became news because TechCrunch wrote about it and put it in context. Would the tweet itself have made Techmeme without the context that blog post provided? I don’t think so.

In any case, it’s interesting that Rivera sees tweets as potentially newsworthy enough to make it part of his news-filtering service — something venture capitalist and blogger (and Twitter investor) Fred Wilson was suggesting might happen as far back as 2008, before many people had even recognized that Twitter was a worthwhile service, let alone a real-time information network. And presumably, the Techmeme founder will apply the same combination of algorithm-driven selection and human filtering that he has to the headlines to keep tweets from overwhelming the site. And Twitter now has another thing to point to that confirms it is a real news network.

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