By Jeff Balke
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Highlights from Hair Balls
At one point during Senator Wendy Davis's marathon filibuster last week, the hashtag #StandWithWendy started to go viral. By the end of the night, it was trending worldwide along with a number of other related words, phrases and hashtags. Just before midnight, more than 180,000 people were viewing the live stream of the debate on the floor of the Texas Senate. And at not one moment of the filibuster were any national television networks tuned in. There are multiple 24/7 television news networks and none carried one of the most stunning and captivating moments in politics since the presidential election live. With all due respect to poet-musician Gil Scott-Heron, he was right about one thing, the revolution apparently will not be televised.
While there have certainly been bigger and more important moments in Internet news reporting history – the Boston Marathon bombing most recent among them – this is certainly a political watershed moment for social media. It helped to reinforce some things we already knew about the power of the web and gave us a few new things to ponder.
10. Being the first is often as important as being the best.
In some ways, this is a bummer because it reinforces the notion that getting to a subject first is more important than getting it right, but such is life in the Internet age. The Texas Tribune was the first (and one of the only) to set up a live feed for the filibuster and it was a huge win both for them and for those following the story.
9. Actual politics can be compelling via technology.
There were probably a large number of people online who had no idea what a "parliamentary inquiry" or "point of order" was. There were certainly plenty who didn't know what a parliamentarian was or why some woman in a suit kept feeding the presiding senator information before he responded to questions. Certainly the debate heightened emotions, but with social media serving as a real time glossary, even the most mundane procedural rulings gained gravitas and even felt entertaining.
8. Hashtags and trending topics can mean something.
Of course when #NorthWest is trending, it should serve as notice that plenty of people are interested in completely inane things, but that's true both online and off where TMZ and gossip rags still make serious money. But, it is important to realize that our own stupidity is not an indictment of the tool. Hashtags immediately provide a touchstone for what is happening in the world. They are a serious macro analytic for understanding what people are talking about and they should not be undervalued.
7. Twitter is the source for breaking news.
As if we needed any additional reminders of this fact, minute-to-minute coverage of the filibuster simply let us know that play by play of politics can be as compelling as live tweeting the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl.
6. Facebook is for sharing after the fact.
While Twitter provides instant gratification, Facebook has become a place for reflection. Oh, sure, people do post in the moment on the social media giant, but not with the same degree of fervor as on Twitter. Instead, users have embraced the sharing of broader information on Facebook that 140 characters doesn't allow. As the two continue both as rivals to each other and companions to denizens of the web, how they are used is changing for the better.
5. Vine is beating Instagram.
With the release of Instagram video, it was easy to see how it could overtake Vine as the choice for personal online video. But, being there first, as mentioned above, has its advantages and Vine is certainly reaping the rewards. Videos poured online from people in Austin last night and the bulk of them were on Vine.
4. Connecting through social media on the ground is a big deal.
At one point when protesters inside the capital building were being arrested, a flurry of tweets with advice on how to peacefully resist and phone numbers of defense attorneys in Austin underscored the fact that sitting at home watching this unfold online can still provide opportunities to be an active, willing participant.
3. Social media moves substantially faster than traditional media.
While social media hummed along, large media outlets lumbered in their coverage or ignored it altogether. It was a demonstration of the speed limitations that plague traditional media sources that social media simply does not have. Getting cameras and live feeds in place, writing stories and getting people on the ground for coverage is a slow, laborious process that was in sharp contrast last Tuesday night to the nimble quickness of social media.
2. YouTube is a beast.
During the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, news outlets in the Boston area tried valiantly to keep feeds online, but many were simply crushed under the weight of the thousands of visitors trying to access their servers. Last night, the Texas Tribune's live feed zipped along with no bugs or glitches thanks to the power of YouTube. As much fun as it is to watch cat videos and see idiots make pratfalls, the ability of YouTube to act as a source of live streaming is not widely heralded. It should be after the night last week when nearly 180,000 watched the feed without a single hiccup.