user centred news

[I originally posted this on the Headshift blog last Thursday]
Hot on the heels of my post yesterday about finding, aggregating and curating content from third party sources, including blogs and social media services, comes word of the Twitter Times which finds and delivers news that’s highly relevant to me – straight from twitter.

For the past couple of years, I’ve most often found out about breaking news stories and other information of interest to me through my friends or contacts online. This, of course, makes perfect sense. Why, afterall, should an editor’s perception of what may or may not be of interest to me be any more accurate than that of the people I have deliberately chosen as friends, follow, or receive updates from?

The protests following the elections in Iran are a perfect example of this. The outcome of elections in Iran isn’t something I’d usually follow, or even be aware of, but when I saw dozens, perhaps even hundreds of people tweeting and posting facebook updates about it, I was drawn in. It’s something, I think, that happened to many people around the World. Likewise, when there was an earthquake in the UK in 2008 I was woken by the tremors and, a few moments later, as I fell back to sleep, had my suspicions that it was an earthquake confirmed when my phone, which at the time was set up to receive tweets from friends via SMS, started vibrating away with text messages. There have been dozens of stories in between, and since, where the same thing has happened – the metafilters that I’ve created bring me news faster than broadcast or print news ever could.

Also, it’s fairly common sense that the news that is important to you is the news that affects, or interests, your friends and contacts. I used to use an RSS reader, populated with over 100 feeds, religiously for hours each day. I abandoned that more than six months ago when I realised that I could still get links to the very best of that same body of content by simply monitoring twitter.

The danger in this, of course, is that, the breadth of news and other content I’m made aware of is likely to be somewhat more narrow than if I bought a newspaper and browsed through it. Each Saturday, when I buy the Guardian Weekend, I stumble across many stories – many of them interesting, some of them important – that I hadn’t seen during the week.

So what does the Twitter Times do? It looks at the tweets from your friends, pulls out the links they’ve shared, and creates a “newspaper” from those links. Here’s a screenshot of the newspaper generated for Rich (@dogwonder), one of my Headshift colleagues who pointed me to the service:


I’ve only had time for a brief look, but it appears that the service delivers content that’s both interesting and highly relevant to the user. And that – user centred news – is exactly the sort of news I want.