Vibrating trousers

Self-spreading news

Last week, the popular Dutch singer Andre Hazes died. (That’s him pictured above.) The news came out just before noon, and within a few minutes, the country’s mobile-phone carrier noticed something strange: The number of text messages instantly doubled. People were spreading the news themselves, instantly, via SMS.

The incident led phone-pundit Mike Masnick to wonder whether this could be a new paradigm for how news is spread. Rather than wait for everyone to tune into their newspaper or TV show or web site, how about having reporters provide news in a format that readers can easily re-broadcast — using SMS, email, or whatever? As Mansick puts it:

From a news organization’s perspective, then, the opportunity is to package the news not in a way that simply attracts more readers, but to be easily disseminated outward by those readers. As the E-Media Tidbits article notes, for the news of Hazes death, a news organization could have sent: “Here is a message to forward, a picture, and part of a Hazes song attached,” and then just let the power of social distribution take over.

It reminds me — to cite a more depressing example — of 9/11. I was at Flatbush and Atlantic that morning, with a crowd of people in the street, watching the buildings burn. When I looked around, I noticed that virtually everyone had pulled their phone out and was talking to someone else, describing the freakish, horrifying scene. Then I suddenly realized: The mobile phone was acting as a sort of de facto news agency, spreading on-the-spot information faster than CNN or Fox.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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