The role of Twitter in breaking and spreading news of the killing of Osama bin Laden is fascinating.
The raid on bin Laden was being tweeted in real-time by Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) of Abbottabad, Pakistan, even though he had no idea at the time of what was happening.
The list of messages on Twitter show how the raid unfolded at the time.
In the US, the first reports of the death of bin Laden came from a tweet by a former aide to Donald Rumsfeld.
It has almost become routine for Twitter to be seen as the first choice for breaking news.
But the bin Laden case is also an example of what I have described as ambient journalism.
Acts of journalism are taking place all the time on the social messaging service, with tweets from both citizens and professional journalists.
What this case highlights is how, sometimes, it can be hard to navigate this constant stream of news and information and identify what matters and what doesn’t.
At the time, Athar had no idea about the meaning of what was happening. His messages were fragments of information, disconnected from meaning and context.
We were only able to interpret the tweets once we had additional information to be able to connect these fragments with other fragments of data.
Here is the key challenge for ambient journalism: if journalism has become like the air we breath, literally all around us, how do we filter and give meaning to the content?
It makes me think of the early days of the web, when companies like Yahoo were trying to index and categorise all the websites in the world. That is, until Google figured out a better way to navigate the web.
Currently, the tools we have to navigate Twitter are fairly basic and strain our cognitive abilities. Yet there are companies like Sulia, as well as many others, that are trying to help us make sense of this ambient media ecosystem.
(Image of Osama courtesy of el cinto)