Whenever there’s breaking news, savvy web users turn to Twitter for the first hints of what might be going on.
It happened with yesterday’s crash landing of flight 1549, it happened with the Mumbai attacks, the Continental Airlines jet that skidded off the runway, the California wildfires and so on.
Twitter is a fantastic place to find breaking news, but Twitter posts are short and sometimes ill-informed. Or even wrong. So, while Twitter is an amazing tool for finding the story, it isn’t the best place to get the whole story.
For comprehensiveness, most of us turn to traditional news outlets, such as those aggregated by Google News. But Google News relies on algorithms to rank stories, and while the algorithms are pretty good, they aren’t necessarily as fast as the news.
That’s why Yahoo BOSS engineer Vik Singh created TweetNews. TweetNews takes Yahoo’s news results and compares them to emerging topics on Twitter, in effect using what’s most popular on Twitter as an index for determining the importance of news stories.
In other words, TweetNews uses Twitter to rank stories that are so new they may not have enough inbound links for algorithm-based ranking systems to prioritize them.
The result is a search engine mashup that tracks breaking news stories ranked by Twitter search results, offering faster updates, better relevance and more in-depth coverage than either source by itself.
In a blog post explaining the ideas behind TweetNews, Singh outlines the frustration many felt when searching for news on the Mumbai attacks: “Twitter messages were providing incredible focus on the important subtopics that had yet to become popular in the traditional media… what I found most interesting… was that news articles did exist on these topics, but just weren't valued highly enough yet.”
That inspired Singh to create the TweetNews mashup, combining the real-time search Yahoo’s BOSS tools with the freshness of Twitter. As an added bonus each story listed in TweetNews’ results also shows the relevant tweets, which themselves often have additional links. A quick search this morning for "flight 1549" yielded seven unique links from just the top result.
TweetNews is not only a fantastic resource, but might well be the best mashup we’ve ever seen. The remarkable part is that Singh was able to create it with less than one hundred lines of code — a testament to the power of Yahoo Boss and APIs like Twitter’s.
And don’t look to TweetNews to be the final word on using Twitter to prioritize other web content. As Singh says, the idea “definitely deserves more exploration.” To that end, the source code is available for download and we’ll be sure to let you know if we see any more interesting examples.