The day Twitter kicked CNN’s behind & @ev bought me a whisky

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Yesterday is the day when Twitter thoroughly beat CNN. Badly beat CNN. Embarrassingly beat CNN. And most other USA-based media too.

Over on friendfeed we’ve been talking about this for the past 12 hours. Here’s one thread on CNN’s horrid news judgment.

This second thread is interesting because of the number of interesting news sources linked to by various people. Don’t miss the photos and videos. Great examples of photojournalism.

ReadWriteWeb wrote a good post to CNN.

I’ve been clicking “like” on the best items about Iran that have come through friendfeed. The photo above I found on TwitPic here. Pulitzer Prize winning material.

OK, so last night something else really weird happened.

My friend Luke Kilpatrick (he lives a couple of blocks away from me) invited me down to the Ritz at about 9 p.m. tonight. He met up there with a couple of geeks. While there he introduced me to Philip Kaplan (the guy who started AdBrite and Fucked Company), Scott Raymond, and Rachel Luxemberg, who is a community manager at Adobe.

It was dark, so I couldn’t see who else was there around the fire ring out back.

Anyway, I was pretty passionate about this CNN story, since every hour we had been turning through the channels trying to learn about Iranian news (my wife is Iranian and hadn’t been able to call her relatives in Tehran). So I was telling Luke about how Twitter was totally kicking ass over CNN (CNN, when I kept turning it on, had nothing on and, instead was playing shows like Larry King Live with a couple of guys who build motorcycles).

That’s when I heard a voice say “what are you saying about Twitter?” I looked up and it’s Evan Williams, founder/CEO of Twitter. Oh, hi!

Anyway, I congratulated him on kicking USA’s media’s behind (CNN wasn’t the only one who wasn’t covering the Iranian protests). We talked about a variety of things, including family (he has a kid on the way, his wife was there too) and the future of Twitter.

We talked about why he isn’t going to sell Twitter, but I’ll let him explain that all in a blog post. We talked about Building43, which has gotten a good chunk of traffic, because his competitor, Mark Zuckerberg gave me one of my first interviews there.

He said that Twitter would ship more new features in the next few months than it has in years. Anyway, I talked more about the evening on friendfeed. We ended up as a group up in the Ritz’ bar where Ev graciously bought us all drinks. That’s how I got my whisky.

I do have to admit it was cool seeing @ev on the evening when Twitter kicked CNN’s behind. Welcome to the Twitter News Network.

Oh, this week should be fun. I’m headed to New York to be on a panel with CNN’s Rick Sanchez at Jeff Pulver’s Twitter 140 conference. I’m definitely going to bring this up with Rick (there’s tons of people Twittering about CNN right now, it’s a trending topic on Twitter’s search and there’s even a hashtag titled #cnnfail).

It is there that I found Steve Bennen of the Washington Monthly talking about CNNFail. CNET too wrote about CNNFail.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

80 thoughts on “The day Twitter kicked CNN’s behind & @ev bought me a whisky

  1. No, it just means that it's hard to get pictures, Robert. If CNN doesn't have it, go to AP TV or BBC or Al Jazeera. Vary your diet. Come back to CNN when they have pictures. It's not always humanly possible. If you could persistently point to a CNN fail over 9 days time while everybody else covered the story, you might have a case. For them to fail for 24 hours might be a function of Christine Amanpour's reluctance to piss off the regime so she could keep access, for all we know.

  2. This is one of those silly anti-American memes. I hardly think Al-Jazeera did a better job. Not like everybody dropped CNN to go over to Al-Jazeera — they went to Twitter. And then back to CNN.

    CNN does cover the news, and with less bias than Middle Eastern TV stations, even Al-Jazeera.

  3. Jay Rosen and Clay Shirkey are for process because they are for nihilism. They don't wish to posit any sort of informed, liberal perspective that frames the news, they want something extreme and anarchic. It's an ideological agenda on their part, really, and media is just the venue for them to push it. There is nothing wrong with lining ducks up in a row. See if you can filter out the hard news tweets from the thousands of noise tweets, look at it in the cold light of dawn, compare or and realize that you were on an LSD trip while on Twitter real-time and delusional much of the time. If you gained a few insights while the Doors of Perception were opened, great, but it's ephemeral and not able to be communicated effectively to others in the end.

  4. I find this geek meme about #CNNfail utterly annoying.

    You have no idea how totalitarian countries work, or how cameras have to work in them.

    Er, what was your plan for running a camera crew in Tehran just like that when the regime was shutting everything down?! CNN is about pictures. It's not about text. It's about getting the pictures. If you want text, read the AP, which was either reporting within the same 3 minute interval as Twitter or faster.

    You seem to be unable to appreciate the role of twitter without having to trash professional news media that does a good job and gets the story when it can. You mistake “news judgement” for “lack of access in a closed society”.

    Quite a few of the people listed as the brave tweeters were outed as the regime's disinformation agents the next day. And who is to know? How easy it is to tweet! And fake-tweet!

    There were many news sites framing the issue perfectly well —, and specialized sites analysis sites like, or like and

    There's Al Jazeera, Reuters alerts, if you read Russian — there's a thousand sites you can go to and triangulate from to get news. Twitter is a supplement; it's not a replacement.

    To get Twitter, you also have to fight your way past a million people just talking about Iran, to get the gold of those actually reporting out of it — and reporting coherently, and read them past all the other lifecasters with noise on the line. Search/Twitter helps, but really, for all the gold-panning we do on Twitter, we could go read and and wait for CNN to line up its ducks, which it did in 24 hours.

    Please write when you go to Tehran and send up your first or videos, Robert, can't wait.

  5. You don't get “breaking news” with Twitter. You get “breaking observations”. Did those people that saw the plane splash into the Hudson know WHY it had to land in the river? Did they know the flight number? Who the pilot was? What his conversations with the tower were? What options he was given before having to land in the Hudson?

    If I see a car crash, and I blast it out on Twitter, I'm not “reporting”, I'm observing. I have no idea if one of the person in ths crash was drunk, they had brake failure, or anything relevant to the cause.

    Have you ever seen a reporter trying to “report” something “real time” on TV? They are HORRIBLE. Because all they are doing is telling you what they are seeing. They are giving you no context, no insight, no background, nothing. That is what Twitter provides when people think they are “reporting” on something. Not saying it's bad. Just different from real news reporting. Those that believe that it is just as good, or better than actual reporting are delusional.

  6. Scoble cheerleads whatever feels fashionable at the time.

    As for reputation, the alleged value is that it's average Joe's “calling it in” in this case. Anyone trying to make a “career” out of reporting via Twitter will be very poor.

    And it's Mr. Putz, unless you're going to use my first name.

  7. Putz.
    Peer review reputation scoring can work IF @ev & Co. are willing to go that way. Just look at the reputation systems on eBay, epinions and even to some extent equifax. They're not perfect certainly & can still be gamed, but they're better than the complete void Twitter has now.

    Also, I've heard Robert Scoble (@scobelizer) called many different names over the years but I have to think this is the first time he's ever been acused of being a “cheerleader for Twitter” – have you read any of his posts about Twitted before 72hrs ago? Not exactly cheerleading…

  8. Wait, you've used the Internet before, right? If you have, and have ever posted in a forum or commented on a blog, then you know there's no way to achieve any kind of ubiquitous quality with Twitter users, let alone vet each one on their qualifications to “report” in a high quality way. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive and just started using the Intertubes.

  9. The reason Twitter beats CNN and BBC is with 'immediacy' and 'quality', but only sometimes.

    Twitter has more immediacy no question. It only stands to reason. How can CNN or BBC compete with the larger geographically relevant and niche subject relevant workforce at Twitter.

    Twitter has more quality BUT only on some occasions. CNN and BBC currently have on average more quality simply because they are professional news journos and have more space to write, albeit a Tweet can link to a blog etc.
    ….and here's my main point … as soon as you have a BRAND at play that has to maintain it's reputation it is better not to report than to report quickly and incorrectly. Some Twitterers care about quality and some don't, so you will always have a mixed bag which is why on reflection CNN and BBC are easier places to find quality than Twitter. If you knew which Twitterers had the quality on the day, then Twitter would win. Quality generally takes a little more time.
    As soon as Twitterers gain reputation they start building there own 'trust brand', they get better known and people seek them out, hence why you and i are on Robert Scobleizer's site right now.
    My conclusion – Twitter generally wins on immediacy, CNN/BBC et al win on quality. BUT in the case of the Iranian election Twitter did win on both counts ‘yesterday’ against CNN. This simply because quality was there, you just needed to be able find it, so was immediacy. At CNN quality was not there at that moment because they had done nothing. Today CNN will win on quality.

    PS. Twitter can win on quality but only if you know who to look at, and this is currently not always possible. Hence why Twitterers need a quality stamp somehow, then you would go to the top quality Twitterer in Iran and watch as the feeds came in. But on this basis CNN could do the same, if they had just one person in place at the time.
    Twitter is increasingly everywhere, it will only be a matter of time before you go to the Twitterers with the highest quality stamp. Then they can compete on quality as well and not just immediacy and ‘hunt the quality’.

  10. Nothing like getting breaking news direct from the source – the people on the scene. Media will have to increasingly lean on “expert” discussion an analysis to compete.

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  12. How can Twitter has the best of BBC (and “everything else”) and beat BBC with his own content!?

    There is no point of debating when the other party is being irrational

    I believe Robert hates being wrong (he's looking like a rabid fan right now) but give him some time and he will come around.

  13. How many Americans use Twitter? Does it even matter? Twitter may be a service that is not border-specific, but its users tend to be. If they're not seeking out news about Iran, then it doesn't matter. The right question is, “How many Twitter users were looking for news from Iran?”

    Twitter didn't “beat” anyone. Twitter is not a news agency. Twitter was a conduit for a lot of raw information, of which a small percentage was actually useful, and I suspect an even smaller percentage was actually accurate. Comparing the Twitter noise to, say, the stuff al Jazeera posted, al Jazeera painted a much more measured and localized response to what was going on.

    I don't understand your desire to be a cheerleader for Twitter, or your reluctance to separate the issues of change in the way we communicate, and quality in the way we communicate. You (and the people on This Week in Tech) need to step out of the tech pundit bubble now and then.

  14. How many Americans can even watch BBC? Not many. You'll note in my report above that I said that Twitter kicked USA's media's behind. That is true. And, Twitter had the best of BBC and the best of everything else. It defacto beat BBC too.

  15. Why focus on CNN?? They badly beat the other “news” networks, too, like Fox and MSNBC.

    On the other hand, if you think all there is to a successful news operation, you need to think about things other than 140-character sentences, and how much information they can actually transmit.

  16. Well put, Jay. I'm glad someone who was watching various sources can back up my point by describing some agency that got it right. Looking back through the al Jazeera RSS, they seemed to be on top of it as well.

    This whole affair reminds me of something I tell people all of the time, when they're quick to blame “the media” (a silly and nebulous term). Sometimes, you just have to realize you're looking at the wrong media. You may “turn the channel” to Twitter, but again, just because a barrage of bits are coming your way doesn't automatically make it better.

    Again, you can single out CNN for sucking, but that does not by extension make Twitter a better source of news.

  17. Do a twitter search for the number of #iranElection tweets that have links to BBC video that was coming out of the country in almost real-time. BBC proved that 'old media' can provide immediacy & CONTEXT. I think CNN does not represent all TV in their sucking. They uniquely sucked, for not leveraging their vast budget, archive of context information and broad network of resources.

    If CNN had wanted to, they could have dominated the day. And… unlike a plane crashing into the Hudson (or something like that) this election did not come as a surprise, and people have been predicting for months that it was not going to go well. (watch this TED conference talk 6 months ago: )

    Sorry, there's just no excuse for it. If they had WANTED to cover it, they could have.

  18. Then what happens when you compare CNN's coverage to some other mainstream media's coverage? “Twitter” doesn't win anything anymore than satellites and phone lines do between reporters and home base, and in turn the Intertubes to you and me. If you want to call out CNN for sucking, I'm cool with that, but unless CNN is the only news agency (obviously it's not), then it's suckatude doesn't validate Twitter as something “better.”

    If you're willing to admit that you want immediacy and quality, and Twitter only offered one, how is it better or kicking anyone's/anything's ass?

    I understand your enthusiasm, I really do, and it's the reason I've been reading your blog since the Microsoft days. But you're frequently too quick to declare wins and awesomeness with the same lack of context that this very topic reveals.

  19. Agreed, it's not a simple problem ‹ there clearly should have been more
    reporting and content on CNN (and other networks) yesterday as events were
    unfolding. That IS why we have multiple 24 hour news networks isn't it?
    They're rarely completely accurate the first time they report on something ‹
    good journalism is a process that takes time.

    Twitter excels in the immediacy, which I think is why the networks are
    relying on it more and more. I wish I knew why they ignored the situation
    last night. It definitely would make for an interesting case study. Anyone
    interested in investigating/interviewing them for such a report?

  20. It's a strawman, that's why. What we want in our news is BOTH immediacy AND quality. Yesterday we had NEITHER from CNN. Today CNN is better, but even there the online media is far better quality AND has far better immediacy. On BOTH of the scores you are bringing up Twitter and other online media beats CNN and beats CNN by a huge amount.

  21. I would respect your response a lot more if I you responded to my points. You can't brush off the immediacy vs. quality issue. It's real. Whether it's CNN or anyone else, the entire basis for your argument is that Twitter is better because it's making real time data, ignoring its validity or quality.

  22. Why are we even discussing something with someone who admittedly is ignorant and hasn't “seen anything that CNN did?” Here's a hint: on CNN yesterday there was NO CONTENT about Iran every time I, and many others, turned on the TV. No context. No real time video. No news. No nothing. Which makes all your points moot.

  23. Good point, and I think what you're getting at it is similar to the “product vs process” journalism that Jay Rosen, Clay Shirkey and others have been debating for some time. What twitter was doing is demonstrating process journalism by which there's a lot of information coming at you, but it takes a long while to get to 'the truth' whereas mainstream media is often stuck with product journalism (even in the digital space) where they want all their ducks in a row before publishing anything.

  24. I agree with Jeff Putz and Jonathan Coffman on the dubiousness of the claims that “Twitter beat CNN” on the Iranian election story. It should also be noted (and I have) that Twitter and CNN are apples and oranges in terms of comparison. It's more accurate to say that a bunch of Twitter users beat two other Twitter users (@cnn and @cnnbrk) on this particular story. But this does not necessarily make Twitter a superior news source in all instances, unless you believe that Patrick Swayze died last month.

  25. The problem, and what's interesting, isn't the question of quality v. immediacy. What's going on here is much bigger than that, so much bigger that it's hard to see it. The whole nature of public conversation is evolving. It's important to remember that evolution doesn't mean progress–it means adaptation, challenging and inevitable transformation.

    Twitter rocked the Iran story, but only for those who've figured out whom to follow. For everyone else, it's a darknet. I happen to think that this puts the onus on those in the dark to kindle themselves a torch; nonetheless, for now, a great deal of darkness persists.

  26. You're absolutely right, Twitter didn't 'beat' mainstream media, it merely was a firehose of of un-verified information being re-tweeted from *new* twitter accounts from which there is no history or verification.

    Twitter was a mess last night! I watched the #iranelection tweets on Twitterfall and the amount of actual verifiable information was tiny. Most people were just over-reacting (isn't that what people claim the MSM does all that time?) calling it a “revolution” when the reports from journalists (like at the BBC) were saying that there were protests in certain parts of town, but that things were quieting down.

    This isn't to say there wasn't horrible things happening in Tehran, there most certainly was, but rather what I'm trying to convey was that such a high percentage of the tweets overnight (US time) were of little to no value without independent verification.

  27. I had no idea who @ev was when we first met either, since he entered the conversation talking about when he'd worked at O'Reilly on a now defunct product called WebSite Pro that I used to use. Funny the way the world works.

  28. Can you increase your vocabulary please? How many times have you written “kicked behind”? I'm sure you can do better. KThxBai

  29. For people interested in the developments around the iranian election, you can use this twitter-based real-time dashboard: a good example of how twitter can power the development of very dynamic situational micro-sites.

    (kudos for Building 43. I watched a few videos and they were all high quality!)

  30. I did not see anything that CNN did, but I doubt at many levels that anything you saw on Twitter kicked anyone's ass.

    The thing that annoys me to no end about these masturbatory posts about how awesome social media can be is that it confuses immediacy with quality. Is it cool that you know, in 140 characters or less, or with photos, what's going on there in real time? Yes, it is. Does it truly offer any context or bigger picture understanding? No way. Any responsible mainstream news outlet (and I'm not saying CNN is or isn't) is going to put things together at least to some degree before they have something to give you, and probably do some degree of fact checking as well. That people with Twitter accounts say this or that doesn't make what they say facts.

    Citizen journalism suffers from the same problem as Twitter in general: You need to sort through a lot of crap to find anything of value. That immediacy reminds me of listening to a police scanner when I was a kid, but the truth is that I never really understood what was going on until I got to read the newspaper the next day.

    And before anyone jumps all over me, this isn't me defending old school media. I'm trying to put into context the difference between immediacy and quality, which continues to be lost when it comes to the Internet.

  31. Is the panel discussion going to be broadcast? I'd like to see the conversation (twitter pauses and all), with and without editing. Being there is not an option (unfortunately).

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