Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When Twitter Is Too Much: The 2009 Winter Meetings

There are times when Twitter can be a useful tool - an advantageous manifestation of technology that can help people relay information where other forms of media can not keep up or go at all. And then there are situations like Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings where the frequency of communication far exceeds the amount of information and those fishing for the latest tidbits from Indianapolis are coming up with a lot of old boots.

Let's assume that the 2009 Winter Meetings ultimately produce the same amount of trades, signings and other types of announcements that this summit yielded in each of the past couple of years. Maybe slightly more or, if you read the first-person accounts from the first day this year, slightly less - but we'll call it even. Given this assumption, what function does Twitter serve?

It has become the central source for breaking news. Within that though, the sources are fragmented, with Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, Tim Brown and Buster Onley leading the way, countless others at a second tier and the untamed masses below that hungry for any dispatch the above can provide. There is an inherent power structure and it gives reporters the ability to post news essentially as soon as they find it out.

Once that news item gets stuffed into 140 characters (and somewhat mangled in the process), it gets passed around infinitely faster. Tweets get re-tweeted and shortened and re-tweeted again, echoed and dissected, posted to blogs and commented on. So in the time that it used to take reports to file a blog post back in the old days - 10 or 15 minutes, say -that tidbit has already traversed Twitter, reaching far more people that it previously would have and is going to be up on MLBTR very shortly.

However, there isn't any more news than there has been in the past, remember? So much of the messages that get tumbled through that cycle above are half-truths, speculation or worst of all, intentional misinformation.

The instantaneous nature of the media also produces the typical results of a game of telephone as shown by our friend Joe at RAB yesterday. The originating source says one thing, and since each person who discusses the rumor feels the need to rephrase it so as to not to simply regurgitate what was already said, and things that were intentionally vague at first become more and more certain without regard to the actual probability of occurrence.

In a way, this is similar to the quest for intelligence in preventing terrorism. We don't know what we're looking for; we just assume that there are bits of information that need to be uncovered which will predict things that are going to happen. Giving every CIA agent the ability to continuously feed information back to headquarters isn't necessarily going to lead to better information, just more of it.

At the Winter Meetings, there isn't just the ability to feed information, there is the pressure to do outdo every other reporter there. So ultimately (at least on the baseball side of this analogy), we spend more time overreacting to things that were never going to happen than analyzing the things hat actually do.

Kevin Kaduk from Big League Stew did a good job of summing it up this morning:
Not to sound too crotchety here, but it used to be that reporters had an entire day before the next edition — or at least a few hours before the next blog post — to sift through all the B.S. and decide which passed muster and which didn't. The result would be a piece that would float a few possiblities that we'd be able to consume and mull over.

Now we have a conflicting wall of noise that's often hard to translate. Want to write a blog post that takes an analytical look at the pluses and minuses of a proposed deal from your local beat reporter? Want to chew it over with fellow message board posters? Better make it quick, because by the time you even write a title, there'll be 18 additional tweets that will make your item obsolete before you hit publish.
Ironically, I started brainstorming for this post yesterday afternoon, so even writing about Twitter is subject to this reality.

But I agree with 'Duk's larger point in that sometimes the quest for instantaneous information is actually detrimental, particularly when there is little in the way of actual news and an incredible amount of white noise to wade through. In this case, the hunger for information is leading to more of it, while the amount of worthwhile tidbits remains the same.

Obviously, the Twitter train is already roaring full speed ahead and it's going to take a while for this dynamic to change. Our buddy Jason suggested that reporters rate the validity of their rumors on a scale of 1-10, and that might work in a perfect world, but people aren't going to want to attach a number rating to a rumor that might get thrown back in their face eventually. If you read between the lines, they already hedge their bets by using non-definitive wording like "possibly" and saying that teams are "in talks".

My solution to this problem is to follow from a distance and at the risk of not being the first person to discuss possible deals, not waste time fretting over spurious rumors. Your mileage may vary, but I'll trade the continuous ups and downs of reeling in the line - whether it be for boots or lunkers - for the certainty of cutting into the fish once it's on my plate.

1 comment:

  1. It has been annoying, but I've heard reporters complaining that the wireless internet is not that good at the hotel they are in. So I kind of figured that they were using twitter more than they would because it's easier to use on their iphones/blackberry.