I recognize that there are many people out there who simply don't understand the appeal of Twitter. Every time we mention the service, we get comments from people saying things like "why would I want to know what some random person had for lunch." Of course, the answer to that is that if all you're getting out of Twitter is what people you don't care about are having for lunch, you're not following the right people. Twitter really is what you make of it, and for many people, it's a really useful communication tool. I use it in a variety of ways, including to keep up with news, but also as a way to stay in contact with friends and family. It's also -- somewhat surprisingly -- enabled new friendships and even business opportunities, by allowing me to build stronger relationships with people I'd probably not communicate with otherwise.
However, there are certain moments when you realize just how powerful Twitter can be as a communication platform, and those tend to be cases when previously impenetrable walls are broken down. I've told the story in the past about how the first time I realized Twitter was powerful was during the Iowa Presidential caucuses in early 2008, when I started following a user who was aggregating tweets directly from within caucus rooms about what was happening in those rooms. What became fascinating to me was that the information that was coming out got me detailed (and extraordinarily accurate) information well before (as in hours
) mainstream media had the results. In fact, in comparing the Twitter results with CNN's reporting, what became clear was that if you were watching Twitter you would have a much better understanding of what was happening in Iowa.
I'm getting a similar feeling after reading about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's use of Twitter in response to the big blizzard
that hit the northeast this past weekend. He's been tweeting up a storm
, as he travels around Newark helping to plow streets and dig out cars and help people in trouble. As you look down the thread, he's specifically responding to different people calling out for help -- either sending people to help or showing up himself, such as the case of the woman who was stuck in her home and needed diapers, which the mayor brought himself
In another, somewhat epic, stream of tweets, one guy complained
that he was stuck. Mayor Booker responded, asking for the guy's phone number
, and shortly thereafter tweeted that he was there to help
. At the same time, though, the original tweeter was complaining
on Twitter with curses, and wondering if the mayor would really show up. In response, Mayor Booker called him out
Wow u shud b ashamed of yourself. U tweet vulgarities & then I come out here to help & its ur mom & sis digging. Where r u?
Eventually, the guy came out and apparently they talked and worked it out, with the mayor thanking him
and the guy apologizing
Now, I'm sure that there are cynical people out there who will mock all of this as just a publicity stunt. And, to some extent, it is
a publicity stunt, but it's an incredibly effective one. Paying attention to his account, you realize that even if he knows he's getting attention for all of this, he really is using Twitter to find out where there are problems and responding quickly. Some will, of course, point out that all of this provides cover for the fact that the city didn't seem to do a good job plowing
in the first place -- but the storm was not an ordinary storm. Also, a key characteristic of what makes a leader is how they respond when things go wrong, and this reaction is quite interesting.
But what's more telling to me, is how this is yet another case of barriers being broken down. Traditionally, folks who were stuck in certain areas of Newark might -- at best -- call some government agency where they'd probably get a run around. The likelihood of them actually being able to contact the mayor directly and have him respond and do something was nil.
The famous saying, of course, is that all politics is local
, but this story shows how Mayor Booker took that to another level, and really opened a channel for direct communication in a time when it really mattered.