Iran elections and an argument for making Twitter sustainable

June 14, 2009
Twitterfall stream for #IranElection

Twitterfall stream for #IranElection

In comparison with the mainstream media’s coverage of the events unfolding in Tehran today, Twitter has proven that it is able to deliver rich and diverse reporting faster and more powerfully than the traditional media.

Twitter offers reporting that places immediacy over analysis, a raw set of primary-sourced evidence that you can use to draw your own conclusions.  As an example of how it can be delivered, I used Twitterfall to get a quick snapshot of what people were tweeting about the Iran election.  I quickly identified the most widely adopted hashtag (#iranelection) and set it up.

What struck me immediately was the depth of information available about the situation in Tehran.  Right now, there are people tweeting direct from Iran, including @abbaspour, @mahdi*, @keyvan*, @Gita*, @y_shar, @tehranelection, @Change_for_Iran, @martianboy, @azarnoush, @mohamadreza and @farnamb. (* these are locked – just ask to follow).

Then there are many people analysing the mainstream media’s response and coverage of the situation via blogs and on Twitter.  The general view is that the mainstream media are not doing a good job, with hashtags such as #mediafail and #CNNfail being widely used.

And finally, there are people just expressing their views, showing the level of support there is in America, and around the world, for the people of Iran.  Of course, there are other views being expressed – some say working with Iran is futile and this election proves the Obama administration’s emerging Iran policy is doomed.  For the record, I could not disagree more, but it’s good to see a variety of arguments being expressed.

Making Twitter sustainable

OK – so there are people all over the world tweeting and blogging about the Iranian elections.  But does this really add value, given there are no checks and balances at all in what is being written, and rumours and gossip could easily be circulating, masquerading as authentic reportage?

Spotting authentic posts and tweets seems not to be an insurmountable task. It is not so different from trying to work out whether someone you have just met is telling you the truth – there is no failsafe method, but we’re all born with the ability to do it very effectively.

The evidence circulating on twitter is an unchecked primary resource – you can apply your own analysis to it, and draw your own conclusions.  This is conceivably better than having to sift through the skewed analysis of a reporter to backwards engineer the full picture, which is what reading a newspapers is often like.

There is a concern that useful tools like Twitter could wither away if not financed sustainably.  Today’s success provides a compelling case to protect the service, and even to promote its use more widely.

I have argued before that I would happily pay for Twitter – but perhaps a better model will be to pay for useful tools, such as Twitterfall, and the more advanced and powerful next generation twitter apps that will undoubtedly come to the market in the next few years.

The key to Twitter’s long-term survival might yet lie in the ecosystem of apps that is growing around it – let’s hope we begin to see a more powerful type of analytical tool emerging soon.

UPDATE | 06.44 (BST) | 15 June 2009: here is a great example of a nice site that uses Twitter and other social and mainstream media to create a one-stop shop on the Iran elections



  1. I think this idea is a revolutionary step forward from your previous arguments in favour of a per user charge.

    In my humble opinion, i am convinced to the point where i ‘know’ that users will never appear in large numbers at sites where they are asked to pay.

    The business model for a site like Twitter is indeed in the data it holds. By selling access to their datafeed (called ‘The Firehose’) to services like Twitterfall as you suggest, this is where the model for sustainability comes in:

    Organisations who would pay to analyse the ordinary tweet (e.g. by looking for trends / aggregating statistics etc) become the financial backers for the entire project – and quite right too because it is the individual who is supplying the most important aspect: the tweet itself!

    Standing back and unravelling the whole argument – i would contend that in the future each user could be entitled to be paid for each tweet!

  2. Great blog.

    An app which classifies Twitterers as right-wing/left-wing, etc. etc. etc. based on the content of their previous blogs and those of their followers might be popular and help us interpret what we read. Perhaps it already exists….

  3. Two posts in one!

    I agree entirely about the Iran Election. There are many times when I use Twitter (and especially Twitterfall) as my news medium of choice for fast moving, immediate information. Some tweeters may be bogus, but analysing to get a consensus is important.

    I think your second argument, though, defeats the first. Without easy access to the #iranelection stream would other tweeters see it is trending and keep/start tweeting? Would they be able to take heart from the support and keep protesting? If the access to information was free and the user model wasn’t would the either the cost, or registering a very traceable bank transaction put you off?

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