Watching breaking news through social media

A group of Flickr pictures from Mumbai I am visiting my in-laws for the holidays when I happened to hop onto Twitter this afternoon. That's when I discovered the horrible news about an attack at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. But as I continued to watch the chatter on Twitter, the situation got worse. More attacks at the Taj Hotel and word attackers were taking people with passports from the US and the UK. Talk of grenade attacks and suddenly a list of people who were in Mumbai emerged. It was amazing to suddenly find people who were in the city give their perspective. I was almost immediately hooked to the Twitter search page where people were using the #mumbai tag with updates on the situation. At some points thousands of new posts would appear in a matter of seconds.

The most fascinating information emerging came from a Twitter user named Vinu. CNN reports his full name is Vinukumar Ranganathan. He had seen the damage first-hand. Many of the explosions happened a couple of blocks from his home. Along with his tweets, he started to upload dozens of photos he took while he was outside. While I read his writing and looked at his pictures, I noticed him comment that CNN had seen his tweets and wanted to talk to him on the air. His phone interview and his photos emerged on that network. His photos can be found online interspersed with AP and Getty Images on CNN started actively recruiting first-hand information through social networks and I suddenly realized the social network of news is going mainstream. It's fascinating.

While I was having this awesome social media moment, a family member talked to me skeptically about how it was possible I could know so much about what was happening without following a "real" news source. I feel I was getting better and more accurate information following Twitter than anywhere else. Many of the facts I learned emerged 10 minutes, even an hour later through CNN or other outlets. Along with the Twitter feed, a help blog emerged and a wiki that was keeping up with the developments very closely. You can even follow Twitter real-time and within a 15 mile radius of Mumbai. It's incredible how the world can combine to deliver awesome information.

UPDATE: A nice list of social networks used during this developing story can be found on Poynter's website and here.