Breaking Tweets website
Twitter - heralded as fad and future in equal measure by journalists - is the tool of choice for new breaking news service, Breaking Tweets.

The site finds Twitter updates relating to news items, searching for the twitterers located closest to the event geographically, and treats them as quotes to build up a story of what is happening.

But Breaking Tweets also wants to make the most of Twitter's social media status: "The goal is to give people a feel of how the news affects those in the region and providing additional context than traditional sources - to personalize the news," founder and editor Craig Kanalley tells Journalism.co.uk.

Despite the site's name, breaking news is not its primary focus, he adds, though this can be a side-effect of monitoring Twitter for news events, as happened with the North Korea rocket launch story.

"Our number one goal is to increase conversation about news events around the world, to bring people closer together and allow people to gain in knowledge through tweets. We believe this is information people need to know and we see our work as a public service," he says.

Other media reports will be linked to as well, in an attempt to better verify news stories, and priority will be given in Breaking Tweet's coverage to eyewitness accounts and images submitted via TwitPic. Additional reaction and conversation around the news will also be added.

Kanalley came up with the idea after seeing widespread use of Twitter while at Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington DC on January 20.

"I had just begun twittering in August and what I saw at the rally was many people around me twittering. Later that night, I looked back at some of these tweets and was amazed how well they captured the event, what it was like to be there, through pictures and other means," he says.

A network of 40 content editors for the site from across the globe, though most are students at DePaul University in Chicago, take leads from international news wires and outlets to local news sources, but also use Twitter Trends to pick up stories that matter to Twitter users.

The human element not only helps beat spammers, often picked up by automatic Twitter aggregators, but is crucial for Kanalley in 'finding the best content possible' to educate readers.

Within six weeks the number of followers to the site's own Twitter account has risen from 650 to 2,753 [at time of writing], Kanalley says.

"@breakingtweets has grown quite a bit over that time, mostly just virally.  We follow everyone back because since we have followers all over the globe, this provides us a live stream on our Twitter account of tweets around the world," he explains.

"When a major news story is developing, it's possible to find breaking details from the scene - if you know where to look, can break through clutter, and can verify - as best as possible - the authenticity of the tweet. That's what our content editors focus on."

Attempting to gather a truly global news picture is the biggest challenge, says Kanalley - while Twitter will continue to grow, it is more popular in some parts of the world than others.

Still, the site is banking on this continued growth and today launched a site specifically for sport. Plans are also underway to open Breaking Tweets Entertainment, as well as a host of other niche topic and city sites.

If Twitter shut down tomorrow or was phased out over time, the service could migrate to another platform, like Jaiku, says Kanalley.

Outside of Twitter people will still be discussing news events online in similarly conversational and short-form ways, he says.

"If Twitter ever does go away, one thing seems clear: the social networking phenomenon is here to say; people love it and they love the connectivity of it," he says.

"That's what makes us so confident that Breaking Tweets can be around for a long time, and hopefully develop into a go-to news service for people worldwide."

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