New Journalism in Action – Using Twitter as a Photoblog with the Iphone

The idea: to run a live Tweet stream from the varied events of the Sutton, Ma Chain of Lights, a celebration that happens at many different locations thoughout the town and its villages.  I used my Iphone with the Twitterlator Application that lets me post pictures direct to Twitter with pictures that I take on my phone uploaded right at that moment.  The tweets all contain the hashtag #suttoncol – short for Sutton Chain of Lights which make them searchable via the Twitter search function, formerly known as Summize.  You can check out the full tweet stream here.

Additionally we (my 9 year old daughter Mackenzie helped me with this) took photos at the events we attended with my Canon Power Shot A530 5 megapixel point and shoot camera.

Why Would You Bother: Sutton, like many small communities, doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the local paper, The Worcester Telegram, and substantially less from the television stations.  Even if they did send someone out to cover the events, they’d have gone to a single location, took a quick couple pictures, or did a quick standup talking to some happy kids, then they’d have been off to their next assignment.  Local events are naturals for crowd sourcing, and what better way to do it than live tweeting with a hashtag, posting a photo gallery, etc.

When I sat down last week to add pictures to the National Gallery and Gift Shop site to help publicize the event, I was surprised to find there were no pictures online anywhere from the Chain of Lights last year, save a few marketing shots by The Vaillancourt Folk Art Museum.

How’d It Work in Practice: I never really expected that it there would be either a lot of readers, or anyone else joining in using the hashtag.  That wasn’t really what this was about.  The big idea was to test and see if it was something that could be done for a bigger event, like a First Night in Boston.  Honestly, Sutton isn’t exactly a hot bed of Twitter users, Eric Guerin and myself excepted.  Surprisingly, I think that this would work very well for that type of event, although there were issues, most of which were either Iphone or Iphone User related:

  • The Iphone isn’t a great Icamera – many of my photos were jittery (I have a shake), it was clumsy to shoot with, and it took a very long time to get from the “I want to take a picture” to the “I can take my picture”, mostly because I was openning a tweet window in Twitterlator and shooting then immediately uploading.
  • Cellphone access in Sutton is awful and Manchaug is even worse – anyone in town could tell you, its hard to get a connection around town, so I saw a lot of “failed to upload image” as I was trying to post.
  • The Iphone Keypad is the pits – between its constant attempts to correct my spelling, especially when I had already spelled out the word I wanted, and my thick fingers on the keypad being virtually unable to capitalize anything, the text portions of the tweets were fairly choppy.  Early morning was better.
  • Batteries – both the Iphone and the digital camera died late afternoon.  Luckily there was a lull between the end of general events and the start of the tree lighting so I was able to recharge a little at home before heading to the Town Common.
  • I hamfisted the Iphone and missed the big shot – Santa coming in to the town common pulled in his sleigh by two mighty Belgian Draft Horses.  My daughter only did marginally better, getting a picture of the horses, but not Santa as the battery finally gave up the ghost.

So Where’s the Photo Gallery? I was hoping that by upgrading to WordPress 2.7 rc1 I’d have access to some better photo gallery tools.  I got what I deserved – the photo upload capability of the blog is now hosed, and 19 hours later, I still haven’t had any response in the WordPress Support Forum, and honestly, I don’t expect to hear from them too soon.  So for now, the photos site on my desktop, waiting to be uploaded.

Final Judgement: It’s a sound idea and one that I’d definitely suggest to anyone running an event that’s going to be diverse, such as a First Night.  While the tools aren’t perfect, this stuff will only get better with time.  Also, if you were to provide space where people could upload their own pictures on your event site, I bet you’d get some truly great shots.  I noticed through out the day lots of folks talking pictures and most were using much nicer slr type cameras with decent lenses, etc.  Bring them together and you’ve got some compelling content that helps to make everyone feel like an important part of your event community.

6 Replies to “New Journalism in Action – Using Twitter as a Photoblog with the Iphone”

  1. Aaahhh, now I know why you are trying to get assistance with that plugin. I read through the article while thinking I’m going to look at the photos next. I’m a little disappointed 🙂

    It sounds like a great idea but that you ran into a number of obstacles with the iphone and rural issues.

    Is this site running 2.7 already?

    1. Why yes, indeed it is running 2.7 rc1. I have had a test site up since October, and also have a new social media intranet that is going live…in minutes using 2.7 rc1. I have found a few minot buts, but the gallery bit is by far the worst.

      I am actually replying right from my admin console now. And yes, I have threaded comments turned on.

  2. Thanks for the mention, I think we may be the ONLY two residents of Sutton on Twitter. That will soon be changing as mass adoption starts to grow. As a fellow resident of Sutton I can truly relate to your cell reception woes. I always get puzzled looks when I go into networking events in Boston and tell them I have to walk out into my street to get a connection.

    A couple of other ideas you could use for the photo gallery. You may want to consider uploading the images to Flickr and I believe there is a WordPress plugin widget that will allow you to pull images from Flickr into a window on your blog.

    You may also want to try tweetworks.com for event crowdsourcing which allows you to form groups (i.e. “Sutton Chain of Lights”) and people can comment on threaded conversations within that group. It’s kind of like chat rooms for Twitter. Then everything from Tweetworks enters the Twitter stream (unless you choose to keep your group tweets private). This would allow easier tracking of events on Twitter than using a hashtag and makes it easier for non-Twitter users to try it out.

    Great post and definitely a very cool concept, I think within a more urban scenario (even Worcester) would be interesting to see how well it works without all the rural connection issues.

  3. I really do wonder if Twitter really ever reach mass adoption. But that’s the subject for another post.

    I would have uploaded to Flickr, and I do actually have the Flickr plugin running (I accidentally deleted the plugin from the left column during my 2.7 update). I actually started tagging them to put them up, then stopped. They should appear sometime after lunch today.

    Tweetworks looks like it is a decent solution. I’ve been using it a little and like it, although I do notice I am sending out Tweetworks tweets the the crowd at large a lot, and those tend to be utterly out of context.

    I may try it again for First Night Worcester, but that would violate my “stay home and avoid the drunks on New Years” rule.

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