Twitter experiment

Brent Finnegan -- March 5th, 2008

I’ve been aware of Twitter for a while now. Initially, I disregarded it as another waste of time — a place to type mind-numbingly boring narcissistic drivel — along the lines of “what I’m doing” updates on MySpace and Facebook. But something citizen journalism advocate, Jeff Jarvis, recently posted on his blog made me give it a second look.

I’d like to try an experiment using Twitter on hburgnews, but I need the help of lots of readers to make it work.

I can’t possibly know everything that’s currently going on in the city and county. Individually, we all occasionally witness events like car accidents, fires, high wind damage, flooding, power outages, police raids, and other “breaking news” as it occurs. I think the sum of those eyewitness accounts could be very useful on a local news blog like this. Collective efforts like that are sometimes called crowdsourcing.

And that’s where Twitter comes in. Readers that would like to participate can register for a Twitter account specifically for hburgnews. If you already have a Twitter account for keeping in touch with friends, set up a second account for contributing to hburgnews. Then email your Twitter user name to hburgnews [at] Anyone can follow hburg, but only the people hburg is following will show up on the blog.

Hopefully that’s not too complicated.

Why Twitter? Why not just use the Happenings page? Because Twitter has the added capability of texting an update from your basic cell phone. Generally, when you’re an eyewitness to something, you aren’t sitting in front of your computer. You can set your cell here, and save the number for Twitter (40404) in your cell contacts list. That way, when you see something you think might be newsworthy, send a short text message to Twitter, and it will show up in the sidebar of the blog.

If the experiment works, a network of hburg twitterers will post pithy news items like “A house on X Street is on fire” or “There’s a wreck on the corner of X and Y street. Glass everywhere” or even “it’s snowing!” The emphasis here is on pithy (you only have 140 characters to work with, so make them count). Also, make it something local that other people would be interested to know — not stuff like “I’m bored.”

Why am I calling this an experiment? Because it might not work right. People might not use it, or they may misuse it. Legal concerns may arise. However, if it’s a success; if people find it a useful way to find out what’s going on, we’ll keep it. Let’s give it a couple months and see how it goes.

33 Responses to “Twitter experiment”

  1. finnegan says:

    Ignore the funky font issues. They’re temporary. I’m fiddling with it.

  2. Frank J Witt says:

    Funny you should post about this…I found YOU on it today and have set it up to receive text messages to my phone whenever you post something. I will see about setting up the special account for here. I love local news so I personally think it is cool.

  3. Emmy says:

    OK, I just e-mailed it. I hope I did everything right.

  4. Deb SF says:

    I’m in. Will set up tomorrow. Do you mind test messages from people as this gets up and rolling?

  5. finnegan says:

    Yes. That’s what I expect at first. I had to, just to make sure everything was working.

    Some people may sign up and not use it often (or ever) but the more people who sign up, the more eyes and ears there are out there, the better the chance of breaking news here.

  6. Laura says:

    If I had a twitter account I’d write this: We had a creepy looking 40-something woman come to our door at 9PM tonight (all our visible lights were off) and ask for money. Whe said it was to keep out-of-state trash out of our area (what??). She stumbled all over her words and came across as either a scammer or a drunk. She went to the neighbor’s house next, and then disappeared far down the street.

  7. finnegan says:

    I’m still messing around with style and setting stuff on the site, so please bear with me…

    Here’s the list of people hburg is following:

    This is what the group has posted so far:

    Whenever they post something, it should show up in the right sidebar here.

  8. linz says:

    Good idea. I’ll sign up sometime soon. Oh, and brent, just for you, I changed my facebook status to “Lindsay is mind-numbingly boring narcissistic drivel.” :)

  9. finnegan says:

    Or you could write “…making it easier for creepy stalkers [or Big Brother] to track her every move.”


  10. David Troyer says:


    We had a creepy 50-something male come to our door (he knocked on my bedroom window, creepy) two nights ago asking for money. His story was a little different, he said he needed money to get to charlottesville because his son was in an accident and was dying there. He tried to show me his ID and promised to pay me back double, but was not visibly emotional about his son dying… actually he was kind of chipper. weird.

  11. linz says:

    Question is, which one are YOU??? Muhahaha…!

  12. Joey Groah says:

    There was a discussion on this week’s This Week in Tech about Twitter vs. Pounce, with the inventor of RSS Dave Winer. The discussion centers around “going where the audience is” and similar threads, including dispersing relevant civic news quickly.

    When I signed up for Twitter it was to get updates from content providers I like or to get great 140-character bursts of creativity from funny people. It’s a great way to get info to/from people you want to communicate with

    (And that isn’t a good example of a typical TWiT episode, and, funnily enough, has been panned as the “worst episode ever” by a number of e-mails to the host. The new MacBreak Weekly though, loads of fun…)

  13. I can’t seem to get the link to work. Also ~ 10-4 Brent, I’ll stick to updates. Sorry

  14. finnegan says:

    Thanks, Frank.

    Two issues I have noticed with the Twitter experiment so far:

    1) The timestamp appears to be about 3 hours ahead of EST. That is on Twitter’s end, not our end. There is a flaw in the badge code. If anyone knows how to fix that, please let me know.

    2) People that already have a personal Twitter account can set up a second account for hburgnews (assuming they use a different email address to set it up). However, if they already use their cell phone on their personal account, they can’t use it for their hburgnews account.

    If you ask me, Twitter needs to fix that. I have three Gmail accounts, two MySpace accounts, etc. People often like to use the same web service for different purposes. Twitter is currently only set up for one account-per-person.

    But on the plus side, that flash badge is really fast. It updates only seconds after you send a text to it.

    Twitterers: keep your eyes peeled out there. You are now the eyes and ears of hburgnews.

  15. Barnabas says:

    Twitterers almost sounds like it breaks one of the rules of this blog. But I geuss its better than calling us Twitts.

  16. Justin says:

    What do you think of putting a “shoutbox” on here. Might be more trouble that it’s worth. You would need web access to use it instead of like Twitter.

    Also, people on the site can talk to each other without cramming up the comments. You could even put it on it’s own page so it’s not clogging up the normal content.

  17. David Troyer says:

    2) People that already have a personal Twitter account can set up a second account for hburgnews (assuming they use a different email address to set it up). However, if they already use their cell phone on their personal account, they can’t use it for their hburgnews account.

    I don’t really see how this is possible with Twitter’s current setup. There’s no way for twitter to know which account to post your text message from if they are both set up for the same cellphone number.

  18. Joey Groah says: talks about the becoming-infamous SXSW Mark Zuckerberg interview and the impact of attendees twittering, both good and bad. And Leo Laporte has a visit from John Scoble who was Twittering live Micro-conversation. I’m fascinated and some what dismayed.

  19. Frank J Witt says:

    I did enjoy the text messages about the weather in town on Saturday (?) but I thought my pants were on fire due to the almost constant vibrations. Pretty cool to know what s going on and the accident reports were great, although a little close to home, I wish people would be more careful.

  20. finnegan says:

    If you don’t want text updates sent to your phone (I certainly have mine turned off)…


    “Also know that you can shut text messages from Twitter off at anytime by replying with “off” (and back on by sending “on”).”

  21. finnegan says:

    There’s no way for twitter to know which account to post your text message from if they are both set up for the same cellphone number.

    I think the Twitter guys should be smart enough to figure out that lots of people use online apps for multiple purposes. They should get another text number (besides 40404).

    Twitter is relatively new. Perhaps they’ll figure it out in time…

  22. Christa says:

    I can’t see the Twitter banner on the website here at work, but can see it at home. What should I do? I don’t plan on signing up, but it’s kind of fun to look at!

  23. finnegan says:

    Christa, more than likely, you need Flash Player 9.

  24. Josh says:

    Thanks to all that have signed up and are participating in the twitter experiment. I just came across a complimentary tool that allows for a new way of submitting news items: voice reports.


    You: Call 866-JOTT-123
    Jott: Who do you want to Jott?
    You: Twitter
    Jott: Twitter, is that correct?
    You: Yes
    Jott: Beep!
    You: Accident at court square.
    Jott: Got it.
    You: Hang up.

    The audio message “Accident at court square” is transcribed and then posted on Twitter which in turn is posted on hburgnews, complete with a link to an audio recording of the report.

    Jott is currently a free service and is yet-another-web-service to sign up for.

    Once you’re signed up, all you need to add Twitter as a link.

    Once you submit a report, the basic flow of information is this:

    You -> Talk to Jott via phone -> Jott transcribes your message -> Jott sends your message to Twitter -> Hburgnews Twitter group watches your Twitter updates -> Hburgnews website posts the message in the Flash sidebar item

    I found that the test messages I posted last night were generally processed completely within a few minutes.

    Twitter updating by text isn’t always safe or easy to do if you’re driving along or less than savvy at sending text messages. Jott provides a complimentary way of sending updates so that you can quickly and safely submit news reports.

    Setting up Jott is pretty straight forward. If you need any assistance in getting things up and running, drop me a line at jbaugher[at]gmail[dot]com.


    PS Jott of course wasn’t designed for just updating hburgnews. I also use it to send text messages to friends, request price comparison reports from Amazon, add events to my Google Calendar, etc. See for other possibilities.

  25. Frank J Witt says:

    Good to see the JOTT phone to text to site worked as explained…that’s cool !

  26. Thanh says:

    Twitter in Plain English (YouTube video):

  27. Josh says:

    Be sure to check out this interview with Brent about the hburgnews twitter:

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