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Twitter: Lessons from Mumbai

Tue, Dec 2, 2008

In the News, Twitter

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As a news junkie, and one with an interest in global terrorism, I was glued to my computer monitor for a large part of the almost 60-hour siege at the historic Taj Hotel in Mumbai and the related terror attacks. I had NDTV from New Delhi in one browser window; CNN/IBN streaming in another.

And, of course, I was closely following the conversation on Twitter. In the process, I learned some new Twitter tricks to share with you here.

1. Advanced Search Leads to Eyewitnesses

With a huge volume of tweets adopting #mumbai as a hashtag, it was hard to sift the wheat from the chaff–or as my tech friends would say, the noise to signal ratio was way too high. Many people were tweeting and retweeting news reports, some accurate, some dubious. But buried in the avalanche of 140-character messages were some eyewitness reports, and I learned a new way to mine the nuggets: advanced search.

Go to http://search.twitter.com — now, see the small type to the right of the Search button that says Advanced Search? Click on it. Or, you could just go straight to http://search.twitter.com/advanced.

I used this feature to search for Twitter users located within 15 km of Mumbai. Voilà! Not all of these people were eyewitnesses–some were reporting what they were hearing on local news or from friends–but I quickly found three people who were nearby and tweeting about what they were seeing and hearing first-hand. They were also taking lots of photos, which soon found their way on to Flickr.

CNN found them too because before long, @vinu, @arunshanbhag and @dina were being interviewed via telephone for international newscasts, and the following day several mainstream newspapers quoted them as well.Twitter Advanced Search - Mumbai

Click the thumbnail at left to see a screenshot of the Advanced Search form with the input parameters. Alternatively, you could use these search operators to get the same results:

#mumbai near:Mumbai within:15km

2.  Twitter Detective: How to Spot the Trolls

After a few hours the #mumbai hashtag was infected with a number of people taking advantage of the opportunity to spread their propaganda. Suddenly we were hearing that the Mumbai terror attacks had been perpetrated by the Mossad (the Jewish conspiracy theory that routinely gets trotted out ); that all Muslims are terrorists (ditto); or that the attacks were the handiwork of Hindus, etc., etc. Some tweeters were more subtle but still had an obvious agenda.

It was interesting to see how many of these trolls had created Twitter accounts strictly for that purpose. Click through to the profile and you could see that they were following zero people and had zero followers, or a handful at most, and that the oldest updates had begun after the terror attacks took place.

The obvious trolls I blocked, in the hope that if enough people did that, their account would be suspended for unusual activity. Additionally, I found that you could eliminate these users from your advanced Twitter search by the use of the minus operator: i.e. #mumbai -trollname1 -trollname2

However, the list of people I wanted to block from the discussion got too long, so I just waded through their wretched rhetoric to read what interested me.

3. Tweetchat: Like a Chat Room for Hashtags

Brooks Bennett, whom I met as a fellow panelist for an event sponsored by the Texas Public Relations Association, created a new tool I enjoyed using to follow the #mumbai discussion. After we had discussed Twitter and hashtags at the TPRA conference, Brooks went home and thought, “What if you could have a Twitter chat room based on one topic?” … and then he created just that over the weekend. I had the fun of demoing it to the American Heart Association just two days later. (I’m telling you, things move fast in this social media world!)

Tweetchat turns a hashtag into a Twitter-style chat room. It’s just like Twitter Search in the way it displays a stream of each post that uses a particular hashtag. Unlike Twitter Search, the page autorefreshes (yay!). Plus, you can post to Twitter directly from Tweetchat–no switching between browser windows or applications. Additionally, when you post a Twitter update from Tweetchat, it automatically appends the hashtag for you, so you don’t have to worry about typos.

Tweetchat #mumbaiTo use Tweetchat, go to http://tweetchat.com and log into Twitter with your username and password (not stored by the Tweetchat server; simply used to authenticate your account with the Twitter API). The “room” name is the hashtag you’re following. You can also send someone a direct link by using a format like this: http://tweetchat.com/room/mumbai

UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly formatted the above link with a hashtag; it is not needed in the URL.

Brooks recently made some tweaks so that links now open in a new tab, and he fixed a bug that truncated messages that included an ampersand. I’m sure he would appreciate feedback when you try Tweetchat, so ping him on Twitter @BrooksBennett.

Those are my recent discoveries about Twitter. What new tips or tricks have you learned?

This post was written by:

Connie Reece - who has written 152 posts on Every Dot Connects.


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. leslie carothers Says:

    Dear Connie:

    Thank you so much for the explicit instructions about how to use both of these tools. This post will be incredibly helpful to me-you have no idea!

    This is what I love about Twitter-people so willingly sharing great information to make the world easier for other people to navigate.

    I will RT this out to my followers now!

    By the way, an app that I love for twitter is tr.im. Its easier, to me, than tinyurl or twitsnip. Not only is it super fast for url trimming, but it lets you see all kinds of stats on your posted snips, too. Check it out.

    Another one that probably everyone knows about is http://www.tweetstats.com. But, if you don’t, here is where you can find, easily, all YOUR twitter stats.

    Hope this helps someone else.

    Leslie

    Leslie — thanks for letting me know about tr.im — will definitely check that out. And thanks for taking time to comment here. I’m glad you found the information useful. — Connie

  2. stephanie mcauliffe Says:

    Thanks you very much for tis clear and useful information.

  3. Taylor Norrish Says:

    Great tip on using advanced search, distance, to get eye witness reports!

    With Twitter, I felt connected to the Mumbai experience.

    Perhaps it’s because Twitter gives you more control over information vs. traditional media. I was also able to find and follow the sources that were giving me the most meaningful information.

    Taylor — I agree about feeling more connected to what was happening in Mumbai because of Twitter. Part of it is the immediacy of Twitter. And without the filter of traditional media, you felt a greater empathy with the people experiencing the terror attacks. Impossible not to think, “Wow, this could be me or my family …” Thanks for taking time to comment. — Connie

  4. Katie Van Domelen Says:

    I think it’s incredible the way that Twitter has evolved to be such an all-encompassing communication tool. Thanks for the tips on how to filter that information into a manageable stream. Very timely and very useful!

  5. C.B. Whittemore Says:

    Connie, this is riveting. Thank you for sharing how to better use Twitter.

  6. Nan Varoga Says:

    Connie, thanks for mentioning that your brainstorm and Brooke’s followup took place as a result of meeting at the TPRA seminar. Our members benefitted enormously from hearing from the two of you and I am glad to learn you got something out of it as well.
    Nan

    Thanks so much, Nan. Obviously, Brooks benefited from the TPRA Boot Camp as well — he was certainly inspired by the lively discussion about Twitter that day! Every time I speak, I learn something from attendees, especially when dealing with the questions about how social media is or is not appropriate to a particular business situation. TPRA put on an excellent event. — Connie

  7. Beth Harte Says:

    Connie, this is a great synopsis of the situation as it occurred in your Twitterstream as well as showing us all how to make better use of the tools that are available. Thanks for sharing Tweetchat with us (and thanks to Brooks for making it!)

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