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Om Malik writes about the recent terrorist attacks in India and the torrent of information on Twitter. He says:
Despite the tremendous volume of information --- and its immediacy --- coming from Mumbai via Twitter, getting context about the situation has been a struggle. While a few people have been tweeting firsthand accounts, much of the information has been re-tweets or just rambling, reaction-based tweets. Maybe I was overcome with emotion, but the sheer volume of tweets and lack of clarity only fed my frustration with Twitter. (I'm sure it's the same kind of frustration people feel with blogs at times as well.)From With Twitter, a Desperate Need for Context - GigaOM
Referenced Fri Nov 28 2008 12:14:11 GMT-0700 (MST)
Trying to figure out what's happening from a stream of rather random comments and commentary on Twitter is indeed frustrating. It's like being in the middle of a crowd that you can't see over and you know something's happening on the edge, but you can't tell what and you're trying to figure it out from what people around you are saying. In many cases, they can't see either-it's mostly hearsay.
That said, Twitter did a great job last week of telling me that something was happening and the general idea of what it was. Details, of course, are another matter.
Web technologies, in general, aren't real good at giving us context. Users manage, build, and maintain their own context in most situations. Threaded email is maybe the best example I can think of where something on the 'Net helps manage context.
Even a simple shopping experience is mostly context-free. You search for the product in Google, read reviews, on a few sites, look at prices and ultimately make a purchase. You're responsible for managing all the context of that transaction by yourself.
One of the themes I picked up on at Defrag is that there are any number of early stage companies who've realized this and are creating tools that help Web users with context. We're a long way from solving the problem, but it's a fun area to think about because there are tremendous productivity gains to be had from building tools that help users do something they've been doing ad hoc for years.