I've been using Twitter for a few months now, but I'm still undecided when people ask me if I like it. It can be as self-indulgent and narcissistic as the haters claim, but it can also be really useful. I follow mostly people / organizations that tell me something about what's going on with things that I care about, and I've found it mostly to be a helpful, self-selected news feed, catered just to me.
And now, with the way it's being used to keep the world informed of the news from Iran, I understand what Twitter might be at its best. Iranians and others have been using Twitter to communicate, not only with family and friends, but with those who are grasping for news and trying to sort out what's happening in real time; Twitter even postponed a scheduled update so as not to interrupt what has become a crucial service for getting news out of Iran when many have found themselves without phones or reliable Internet access.
In a recent TED Blog interview, NYU Professor Clay Shirky spoke about the influence of the internet on the way we digest and understand world news as it unfolds, and he was asked about the recent events in Iran in particular. When asked: "Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?", Shirky replied:
"It's Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it's easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I'm sure it wasn't conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it's had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook's model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people around the world who've made it their business to help keep it open."
You can read the entire interview on the Ted Blog.
Also check out Andrew Sullivan's amazing blog coverage of the news out of Iran - Sullivan regularly collects Tweets out of Iran (like this), giving a real feel for what people in Iran are thinking, seeing and feeling. It's a new way of collecting news and understanding events in real time, outside of traditional news sources.