Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twitter Bangkok

From its inception until about a month ago I considered twitter an all but useless frivolity, good only for bored housewives and self-obsessed kids. Bangkok has changed my mind.

During the unfortunate events of the last week in Bangkok, twitter proved itself an absolutely amazing, invaluable tool for everybody involved - the people on the ground, the government, the protesters, the journalists and even for casual observers such as myself.

During our little war here in Cambodia of July 97 we were, for the most part, pinned down in our houses with little information about what was going on. I was lucky at the time. I had a cell, a shortwave, an Icom (military) and a television. And still, information was very sparse, narrow and always way late. Military chatter, two day old (incorrect) news on CNN, the occasional phone call from one of the few other people in town with a cell, usually looking for, rather than offering information. And it took four different bulky tools to get that limited information.

But during the Bangkok event, through Twitter, I had access to dozens of sources of information, right there on the ground, on all sides of the event, being reported in real time, in an easily monitored format - more than 3 dozen people in the heart of the action twittering what was happening before their eyes from several perspectives at that very second, and so did lots of people there in Bangkok, from their handphone alone. Except for analysis and summaries, it made traditional news sources all but superfluous - whether web, cable or broadcast.

From an information gathering point of view, it was even more powerful than actually being there on the ground, because you could be in 40 places at the same time, experiencing it from 40 different perspectives - the mad red shirt, the terrified tourist, the resolute governor, the crazy expats giving the blow-by-blow from the streets, the journalists making cynical observations or trapped in a pagoda under fire, people reporting troop and protester movements and confrontations, calling for help for the wounded, reporting fires and bombs, even Thaksin's lawyer trying to spin the whole thing from Europe. It was a mass of information, all as it was happening.

This was another landmark event for twitter, and a transformational event for me & twitter. I am sold.