What would have Twitter looked like on 9/11?

I spent the first week of college living through September 11th in and around New York City and have since endured recurring plane crash nightmares.

Which is why I was relieved to find out after the fact that today’s close call with Air Force One and two F-16s was a photo-op rather than another generation-defining tragedy.

Reading the New York Times’ extensive coverage of the episode on their blog had me wondering about how the event unfolded on everyone’s-favorite-real-time-reporting-source: Twitter. What was the first tweet that observed the fly by? Was it panicked? How many people retweeted it? What would have Twitter looked like on 9/11?

We’ll never know, but I’ve done a bit of searching for terms related to today’s news (“nyc plane”)* and have discovered one of the first tweets at around 10:30am (around the time of the first flyover) by n8s8e asking JetSetCD whether Obama was supposed to be in NYC:

Shortly after, @The_Pace asks a similar question, and then @hugoyles mentions that Goldman’s trading floor was evacuated. Then @ChicagoSooner reports that CNBC had confirmed the sightings. @Rithesh asked if there was a plane crash in lower NYC, and then @grapejamboy breaks the news that the Pentagon confirmed the flights as a photo-op. From then on, most tweets cover the story properly.

It’s clear that Twitter beat traditional news outlets today in relaying that something was happening with a plane over NYC’s downtown skies. However, as @Rithesh’s tweet demonstrates, there is potential that misinformation gets disseminated (there was no crash) as well, so the system is not noise proof.

There’s also a limit to what can be gleaned from Twitter search at any given moment, and a very real chance that all the signal will itself become noise. As commentators smarter than I have observed, this makes Twitter a fantastic “raw material” in a journalist’s process, but not a final product itself.

But really, what’s the difference between leaving a search open in Tweetdeck and leaving CNN on in the background?

UPDATE: Zander points out this great piece in the Nieman Journalism lab breaking down the Twitter accounts of today in much better and greater detail than I did.

*This search is not scientific at all and is probably leaving out earlier sightings. I tried searching for “plane” but Twitter’s search is frustratingly limited to narrowing queries by day as opposed to hour and minute (which would be ideal here) and will only deliver a max of 1500 results for any term. There are obvious security reasons for this, but it presents a fantastic example of how Twitter can capitalize on search: I’m  willing to shell out a couple of dollars for access to do more sophisticated searching.

Jeffrey Lewis is a Rip-Off Artist

Or so he admits in his NYTimes column on “Measure for Measure”:

Thus so many of us snobby “real” artists are just cover artists in disguise, taking various devious steps to confuse our listeners into praising our “songwriting.” Perhaps what I do should be called “song-composting,” “song-mulching,” “song-smoothie-ing,” something like that. Or you could just call it “ripping off” and take me to court. I’d probably lose.

Jeff’s column speaks to an inherent tension all artists accept in their own work. Just when they’re about to click “save” or “publish” or “send” we think: Did I really make this? Will people realize that I’m merely doing … ? Or that I’m a poor man’s … ? It’s a wriggling acknowledge in the back of our mind that we’re stealing something, or not attributing properly, or that we might not be as original as everyone thinks we are.

But what I find most interesting about Jeff’s column is his begrudging acceptance that while this is a necessary process all artists endure there’s some legal fear, uncertainty, and doubt inherent to creativity that’s just inevitable and unavoidable. As someone who works for an organization that tries to encourage the very appropriation Jeff sees as essential to creation, it worries me to observe this kind of resignation.

Anyway, here’s Jeff doing his thing: