Thoughts on breaking news and Twitter

By Phil Plait | March 12, 2009 4:59 pm

The near hit of the ISS and a piece of space debris was quite the sensation this morning. It’s given me some things to think about.

Twitter logo

First, as DaveP points out, the mainstream news hardly even had time to put up a note about the potential collision until, in many cases, the whole thing was over. Yet on Twitter we were right on top of it. I have Tweetdeck (a Twitter reader) always open on my Mac desktop, so I constantly see the feed. I saw Nancy Atkinson tweeting about it, and immediately started looking around for news (going to NASA TV helped). I started tweeting about it myself, and sending people Nancy’s way to get info too.

Basically, by a few minutes before the event itself, thousands of people on Twitter were already getting the blow-by-blow.

The same thing happened in February with the Texas fireball. News on Twitter was flying about it shortly after the event. Remember, this happened just four days after the two satellites collided, so rumors flew that the fireball was a piece of the debris. I knew it wasn’t, and did my best to squelch that rumor. In this more recent ISS case, a few folks were speculating the debris might be from one of those satellites too, but it was quickly determined to be something else. That was never picked up by any big news service like the fireball was, so we avoided any rumors like that.

When I first heard of Twitter, I thought it was useless. Then a gunman held two people hostage at Johnson Space Center, and I tweeted info as I heard it. People really liked that, so I started tweeting Shuttle launches and landings, and people liked that too. What I’ve discovered is that Twitter is an awesomely useful tool for rapid dissemination of information. And as we saw with the fireball, it sends out misinformation rapidly, too.

I’m not sure what to do about that, except to try to have the ear of people with lots of followers, and send them the correct info. The more folks who hear it, the more who will "retweet" it, and the faster we can step on rumors.

So that’s one problem with Twitter. But there’s another.

Twice now I’ve received complaints that during these events, I tweet too much. That’s an interesting thing. We’re talking breaking news, and Twitter, we’ve seen, is profoundly useful in those situations. As news comes in, it gets out. Under normal circumstances, I don’t tweet that much, so that’s what people expect. When an event happens, though, I will increase my frequency by a factor of five or more.

I can see where that might irritate someone who follows me. But what can be done? I want to make sure that I’m getting information out as I find it out, and that means lots of updates. I certainly don’t want to tick anyone off, but what other choice is there? Ignore the news? That doesn’t work either.

So I’m honestly at a loss. The Shuttle launches again in a few days, and I’ll be on Twitter reporting it if I can. I don’t expect a solution between now and then, but I welcome ideas. If you’re on Twitter and have thoughts, leave comments below, please. But not too many! That’s irritating.

[Note added a bit later: I did get one public tweet from someone about doing it too much (MCPF&#153 Adam was just teasing me), but that’s not really what prompted this. I got some private messages after the Kepler launch (plus some from an old launch months ago) which spurred me into writing this.]

[Update 2: David Harris has some thoughts on this as well.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Piece of mind

Comments (91)

Links to this Post

  1. Conspirama | March 12, 2009
  2. Secular Sunday Geek-It-Up Links - March 15, 2009 — Hoyden About Town | March 14, 2009
  1. Phil, most of the time Twitter is being used for what it is — just sayin’ what’s happening with a person. But, when things like the ISS event this morning or the Mumbai attacks happen, Twitter becomes a “person on the scene” kind of reporting tool — and in that case, those of us who tweet walk a fine line between saying too much of “nuthin’ kinds of tweets and actually contributing to the info stream. There’s no set answer, so I’d say that you should twitter whenyou know something or have something useful to contribute — and by useful, it doesn’t have to be “info driven” but a thought you have about something or, as you did today, pointers to Nancy’s site.

  2. Justin Alcorn

    I was surprisd that Savage complained – publicly. I thought your tweets were very interesting and I liked knowing what was going on.

  3. b!X

    Many people who sometimes livetweet substantial events open up secondary Twitter accounts and when such a time pops up will tweet to their normal one that people interested should check the secondary account.

    That said, the dgeree to which you tweet during such events is really not especially overwhelming. Certainly not at the levels which have prompted other people to open such secondary lovetweeting accounts.

  4. Phil: Yikes, methinks the naysayers should get a better twitter client. For me: you should just blaze away. I learned of the ISS near-miss through you and you seemed well on top of it. Nothing too onerous at all. In fact, I appreciated it, so, thanks!

    Cheers, Julian

  5. b!X

    “lovetweeting”? No, no that’s not what I meant at all.

  6. The only time I’m bothered by the frequency of anyone’s tweets is if it’s going to my phone… and I’m very selective about who is configured for phone updates. (Close friends and a few others, and even then I configured Twitter only to send those during a generally-daylight time window.) If I have Twhirl (or what-have-you) up and running, I don’t mind getting all the news that’s fit.

    But that’s just me.

  7. Solution: Do whatever the hell you want and ignore the whiners.

    People have a choice whether to follow you or not. The fact that your tweet frequency is erratic is just part of how you tweet.

  8. Every once in a while I find someone I follow on Twitter is tweeting a whole lot more than I really prefer. My solution is to skim. It’s not that hard. True, it occasionally seems easier to complain. But that’s short-term thinking.

    I found your series of tweets this morning to be worthwhile and informative. Keep in mind that for everyone griping, there are far more who feel the opposite.

  9. If you’ve only had two complaints about tweeting too much when you’ve got something to tweet I’d ignore it. If people don’t like how you tweet they know where to find the unfollow button.

  10. Phil,

    I think there are enough tools and toys for filtering what kind of tweets one sees that people really shouldn’t be complaining about the output of someone *they have elected to follow.* That’s just laziness on their part, I reckon.

    I suppose learning to selectively throttle the information thrown at us is a pretty twenty-first century skill — that is, a fresh one. There are so many things to periodically ignore, or automate the ignoring of…I guess sometimes folks just feel overwhelmed.

    I, for you, follow for such coverage — even when they’re barrages. Yours is a trustworthy voice in the noise.

    Cheeseburger Brown

  11. PG

    You can set up another twitter accounts for Breaking News, and just send one tweet on your regular account to let people know to go there. That’s what @TheFix does. He has an account called @HyperFix for live twittering the White House Press Briefings.

  12. The idea of a secondary account for the use of livetweeting a big event is a valid one; I’ve seen some people do that for events. And you do expect to livetweet things like launches, so it’s not like you would never know if you’d have a use for it.

    I get all my tweets on my twitter page, and sometimes it’s overwhelming, but so far I haven’t gotten to a point where I feel the signal to noise ratio requires me to do some changing to what information I intake.

  13. I think a secondary account is the answer. I don’t know how/if TweetDeck handles multiple simultaneous logins, but I know there are apps out there that do.

  14. Jesso

    I say tweet away! I find the tweets interesting. It’s not like you’re tweeting:

    When you’re tweeting a big event, I think the rules bend. Then it’s okay to tweet a lot.

  15. BobHole

    I had a similar problem – I port my tweets to my Livejournal and someone told me I was rude to not hide them behind a cut. Um. “Then Go Away” was the response I really wanted to make. If someone can’t handle the new media, they can lump it.

    It’s YOUR tweet list for gosh sake. You’re reporting on what you’re reporting.

    So tweet away. Those few who think you tweet too much can always ignore you for those times when you’re doing breaking news. Or they can just go away. They’re obviously not interested in what you have to say.

    I admit I only follow about 150 people, but you’re certainly not the most frequently seen name on my tweetlist.

    Personally, I very much appreciated your running comments this morning and last night before the aborted shuttle launch. I’m glad I found you to follow.

    I hope you keep up the good work.

  16. I’ve seen Twitter get abused by spam marketers and that sort of filth… That said, I like seeing updates on things as they happen. Having a good Baloney Detection Kit can help with filtering through Twitter, but those Kits seem in short supply…

    By the way, it’s easy to find me on Twitter. 😉 Now if I only could only figure out how to configure twitter to my desires. GreyDuck, mind educating me a little? Sounds like you have it set up better than I do.

  17. I am fine with your tweeting too much. I did, too, during the California Supreme Court oral arguments on overturning Prop. 8, which removed same-sex marriage rights. I had one person email me to tell me she was unfollowing me for the course of the day, and asked me to let her know when I was done — then she refollowed. I had three separate people thank me as their only non-work-related internet access was their phones, and I was their source of information about the event. And I had perhaps fifteen people add me over the day, as I was retweeted.

    I think it’s part of the nature of Twitter, and how people use it differently and expect different things from it. People who need less flow will unfollow people they think provide too much, and follow those who use it less. You do a good job with dissemination of real science, and you build trust and relationships, and if folks have to follow you by waiting for the people who post less but focus the information to retweet “substance,” they will — and they’ll get the information they need, all the same. People who want the connection and the flow, and who can mentally filter out what doesn’t interest them, will follow along just the same as always.

    Mary (@mactavish)

  18. PG

    Just to add: that way, people can unfollow your “live” stream if they think it’s too busy. Personally, I don’t understand why people get upset with too many tweets from one person. I just scroll past them if I don’t want to read them.

    I would never have known about the ISS thing this morning if it weren’t for you!

  19. Yuk Lau

    Honestly, I don’t see a problem with your rapid tweeting of breaking news. Its part of the reason why I started following you on Twitter. I know atleast that the information you tweet about is news worthy. If I didn’t like what you tweeted, I wouldn’t still be following you.

  20. Jesso

    Since I can’t edit my last comment, I’m commenting again to say that Cheeseburger Brown makes an excellent point- people chose to follow you! And if they really expected an *astronomer* not to get excited when *astronomy* happens, then they have it coming.

  21. Philip

    If someone thinks you tweet too much they should remove you from their follow list. Simple as that. It is your tweetfeed. Do with it what you like Phil. I wouldnt do it any other way.

  22. Phil,

    The “You Tweet too much!” thing is never your responsibility. The “Favourites” system works great for content filtering, as does temporarily unfollowing someone if they’re being an irritant. Neither costs a dime, nor does it take a long time to set up. Tweet as much as you darn well like, and if people whinge remind them that they’re the one following you – not you shoving your tweets down their throats at gunpoint.

    It was horrifying then (after the fact) thrilling and uplifting following your ISS tweets, and Nancy Atkinson’s. I didn’t get much work done for an hour, but I actually got to connect to the space station, and the astronauts on it in a way I never would have with contemporary media. For an hour, Astronaut didn’t mean “engineer” or “scientist” only, but also someone perched on the sharp edge of what we know, out there on orbit, in jeopardy – a fact we on the ground forget all too often.

    So please, don’t let anyone try to tell you you tweet too much. It’s not like you’re spamming our IM clients. For those of us who care, you’re a bright channel into the big black that we don’t get to see enough of.

  23. Savino

    I´m still a dumb on this matter… gonna search more infos about this!

  24. I am on Twitter, following you and (as of now) 183 other individuals/organizations. My problem with the “you tweet too frequently/too trivially/etc.” complaint is that Twitter is a) free and b) completely “opt-in”. If I don’t want to hear your blow-by-blow on these fascinating events (or @joe_blow’s tweeting of his lunch choices) then I can simply stop following you/@joe_blow. Put out what you think is important or relevant or fun (in your opinion) and let the internet do the rest. Don’t let the old-media mentality cramp your style.

  25. If you are worried about losing general followers because you tweet a lot during special events, how about making a second twitter account? Use the first for your everyday sorts of traffic. And the second for minute to minute coverage of space events. Those who care about both (like me) will subscribe to both and those who only want the occasional tweet will only subscribe to the first one.

    Steven Hammond
    Solar System Ambassador

  26. Can you recommend an application with some sophisticated filtering mechanism? Maybe there isn’t one yet, but someone is bound to be working on something that gives users total control over which tweets actually pop up and take their attention.

    For now, the secondary account is a great idea. And don’t let Savage get to you! That guy is such a downer (obvious joke).

  27. Davidlpf

    As long as we don’t get a tweet saying “OMG this sandwich looks like Jesus!!!” if you do you know you’ve cracked.

  28. robotkarateman

    Phil, I follow you at work. I can read your updates, but installing new programs is a serious no-no. So while I appreciate the snobby “GET A BETTER TWEET CLIENT N00B!” comments here, it’s simply not feasible.

    Once you announced it, I followed your link to Nancy_A and read her take on the situation until it was over. I honestly think that’s the best solution – you should provide tweets to people who are doing the “on the spot” tweeting about it, and leave your tweets entirely for the big important stuff like announcements, links, and comments about Adam Savage’s wardrobe choices.

  29. I’m a web designer, internet junkie, and no stranger to social media, but for some reason Twitter just never appealed to me. Just the same, I recently dove in, just to see what the fuss was about. During the recent launch of the Kepler mission I began to sense the value. For one thing, I wasn’t even aware it was happening, and for another, the immediate and unfiltered nature of the tweets was hard to resist. Sure, I could have read about it later, but there’s always something about “live” information. For good or ill (think 9/11) when you experience it “as it happens” it seems to have a greater impact.

  30. Patrick


    Too much tweeting isn’t your problem. There are plenty of tools and clients out there for
    people to filter and consume as they like.

    I always have it up on my igoogle (betwittered) and my blackberry (Twitterberry) and I generally ignore it unless volume really heats up and ‘something is going on’ such as the ISS or Rebecca Watson’s hobo invasion yesterday.

    I don’t ever broadcast tweets, but I love consuming them. I frankly thought twitter was the dumbest thing ever until a few months ago. The Texas fireball was really when I started paying attention and looking at my feed more often.

    If these people complaining are sending your tweets to their phone or something, that’s something they can/should fix. I don’t really like the idea of a second feed for ‘live reporting’ things.

  31. Like many, I found out about the ISS thing through your Twitter feed. Tweet away! I feel somewhat isolated sometimes up here in the boondocks, and your tweets (and others) make me remember there’s a world. Keep up the good work, I say.

  32. I agree with PG’s idea.

  33. Twitter does something that no other form of communication has been able to do before: it enables anyone to disseminate information to a large audience in real time. Old people don’t get it:

    And yet another generation of young people has turned their parents into clueless old fogies.

  34. I’m with everyone else here. Tweet away to your heart’s content. People can unfollow or (less permanently) filter you out for the day. I agree with MarkHB that following your tweets today about ISS was a really valuable thing for me – so much more than hearing news – actually feeling a sense of community cohesion and shared concern was a big deal to me. I know Mike Barratt, an astronaut who’s going up to the space station at the end of this month for six months, and I can tell you that when he is up there I am going to be following your (and Nancy’s) twitter feeds like a hawk!

  35. jonathan

    Welcome to the internet. People complain about things here.

  36. Actually, Phil was kinda late on the ISS – the official NASA feed and spacewritter were quite a few minutes earlier. Anyways, Twitter is a great medium for breaking news. Especially, if you look at a site such as twitterfall (that’s how I learnt about the pastor shooting last weekend). I bet if twitter were around on 9/11 people would had known what happened within minutes.

    I have to say I’m quite pleased with the trend that regular people (bloggers and enthusiasts) replace the tradition media witch deliver rubbish news 99% of the time and too late – an ISS post appeared on CNN only a few minutes before the TCA (at which point it’s kinda useless).

  37. Mena

    I agree with the people who are saying that it’s ok to tweet when you have something to say and if it gets to be too much for someone, they can ignore it or unsubscribe. I personally find Twitter to be silly, kinda like blogging for lazy people, so I don’t follow anyone. I’m at the zero end of the spectrum, there are people who are avid about it. You can’t please everyone, in other words, so just keep doing it the way you want. It has to be fun for you too.

  38. Erik Sunde


    As long as what you are tweeting is relevant, or of relative interest, I have no problem. Just do not do a play by play of your meals, bathroom events, or such.

  39. Hey, I really think you’re thinking about this too hard. It’s really simple. Tweet when you have something interesting to say. Shuddup when you don’t. If your audience doesn’t like what you find interesting, they’ll leave. And your real audience, the people who like hearing about what you have to say, will appear.

  40. Phil-
    I love reading whatever you have to say, whether the topic’s galactic or earthbound. That said, my preference is irrelevant. You choose to communicate on Twitter. People choose to follow or not. [Frankly, I think they should follow you, but that’s just me.] I would hate to get a diluted Bad Astronomer’s eye-view. Keep on keepin’ on!

  41. How about old-fashioned live-blogging? Tweet a link to a page on your blog, and update it as the event progresses.

  42. Phil, when I saw your feed today on a break at work, I was engrossed in it. Keep it up hearing about this kind of news at that pace is exciting and I’m glad you were on top of it.

  43. The only thing I’d take issue with is (the implication of) this:

    the mainstream news hardly even had time to put up a note about the potential collision until, in many cases, the whole thing was over.

    I see them as doing a different job. With most news, it doesn’t matter if you don’t find out until 12 or 24 hours after it breaks. But I do expect them to do the filtering and fact-checking that is more difficult with something like Twitter.

  44. TaoMacGuy


    You are a man with an enormous amount of integrity. You tweet volumes, in my opinion, when it is appropriate, and, in my opinion, that is a good thing.

    I understand you’re wanting to be sensitive about this and do the right thing. I say, follow your heart. You will know when volumna-tweeting is appropriate and when it is not. If anyone doesn’t care for lots of tweets, they are, of course, always free to stop following you.

    Don’t change a thing in terms of your tweet-frequency. It’s working perfectly well for me!

    My $.0.02.

  45. Daniel McLaughlin

    I found your countdown tweets during the Kepler launch a bit redundant given the broadcast at NASATV. That said it’s your obvious enthusiasm for space and science that keeps people following and I think that’s where twitter excels over the mainstream, the ability to be kept informed of real time events by people passionate about whatever the subject might be rather than a talking head that may not necessarily be passing along the most accurate and/or relevant information.

    As for the couple of complaints I’d ignore them just as they could have during your excessive tweeting. 😉

  46. Ditto to the bulk of these comments. I find your tweets interesting and relevant. Keep ’em coming!

  47. Woodmitre

    Phil, at the time of your tweets I was away from home staying in a hotel on my own. I had no idea what was going on with the ISS. The tweets were most welcome and helped an extra pint of bitter go down.

    I follow people because I find them intresting, I get disapointed when people are quiet. So keep it up, i’m listening/reading.

  48. I like your tweets. I often don’t have time to go looking for news stories and mainstream media is notorious for ignoring astronomy entirely or, if they don’t, getting it wrong. So keep the tweets coming. Like others have said, if people don’t like the frequency, it’s up to them to adjust their settings. It’s your account. Do what you want with it.

  49. Thanks for the thoughts so far folks. I want to make sure y’all see that I added something to the bottom of the post; this has been on my mind for a long time now, and so this was a good time to talk about it.

    I have friends whom I follow, but filter out, because honestly they tweet 100 times a day and I don’t care about 99 of them! And no, I won’t say who. :) But that’s not their fault; they have stuff to say and people who want to hear it. I don’t have a lot of time to read all the tweets, so I scan them. That’s hard if there are 40 “@” replies in a row from someone. So I let my client (Tweetdeck) filter them out for me in the feed I check all the time. I have the full feed in a different column which I can peruse too.

  50. It’s very strange to see a complaint about someone tweeting too much. Twitter is set up in such a way that it’s ridiculously easy to follow or stop following someone. It’s literally a matter of seconds to do either. If I want to get updates from someone, I follow them. If I decide I don’t want to get updates anymore, I stop following. During the ISS incident today, I followed Nancy Atkinson. When it was over, I stopped. On. Off. Like flipping a switch. And I was doing this on my phone. On a desktop or laptop, it’s even easier.

    Let’s ponder that for a bit. It’s actually easier for someone to stop following you than to send you a complaint. Phil, you’ve got, what, 6000 followers? If you were tweeting too much, or sending the wrong kind of information, chances are you wouldn’t have anywhere near that number.

  51. IVAN3MAN

    Phil has 6000+ followers? That’s still nowhere near the amount of Jebus followers! 😛

  52. Davidlpf

    But would Jesus Twitt.

  53. Phil,

    Just keep doing what you’re doing.

  54. Rebisaz

    I hope you keep tweeting as much as you do during interesting events, like the ISS scare this morning and the Kepler launch last week. I love reading it and I’ve never found you to tweet excessively.

  55. wench

    I like how much you tweet. You’re an astronomer, astronomy is what you like, what you do. When astronomy stuff happens you tweet about it. That’s the whole point of following the BadAstronomer for me is getting astronomy tweets. Otherwise I, a mediocre astronomer at best, wouldn’t know half the cool astronomy things I know.

  56. I thought the twitter handling of the ISS incident was excellent. Wouldn’t have heard about it at all until tomorrow morning if I hadn’t had tweetdeck up, and I even got to ask a question about the whole thing and get it answered… That’s awesome in my book.

  57. Richard

    While at CNN I dove into computers and BBS’s and later fell in love with the potential of the web to educate and inform. Now I see the signal to noise ratio rising to a point that the noise muttles the signal. Journalists are trained to back up their information with credible sources. How about the Twitters and Bloggers?? It’s wonderful that we all get to express ourselves publicly but do we generate a signal or just more noise. Ask yourself do the big decision makers make their decisions based on Twitter or Bloggers.

    “Know yee that the truth will set you free.”

  58. Tom

    Tweet all you like. Dissenters can de-followify (yes it is).

    Failing that, if you want to expand your use of Twitter in a more official reporting, or at least re-reporting capacity, get a second account for the breaking news. But don’t really… just go the first way.

  59. Julienne

    As I said on Twitter and will repeat here – today’s near collision and the information leading up to and following it was the best use of twitter there is. I live in the Southern California Desert and I new we were in for some earthquakes because other people on the same faults were twittering earthquakes as they happened. Sure enough, two days later, we have a 3.8. We may all joke about twitter being “hey, guess what I’m having for lunch”, and sometimes it is, but it can also be a supremely powerful tool for information dissemination. Here in the valley we’ve been told that following a major (8+) quake phone service will definitely be down, cell service will likely be blocked by use of emergency workers, but many have speculated that the wifi will continue because we have never had more than a 10 minute power outage following a quake. So twitter may be the way we notify friends we’re okay, how we tell what roads to avoid due to downed lines and how best to pick up kids from school.

    This was a much longer post than I intended, but the fact is I’ve learned more about astronomy from your twitters and your blogs (which I link to from your twitters) than I had in my college classes. I was a bio/chem geek and the whole universe thing was a bit much back then. I appreciate all you do and I know that others do as well. Ignore what the people are saying – if they think you tweet to much – they can very simply unfollow!!

  60. Dr. Plait, while only loosly tied in to Twitter and all, I think that this subject at JREF may interest you. You are already doing what YOU need to do, but anything more that can be done is always a good thing (i.e. the post at the JREF forum).

  61. Gonzo

    BA said: “What I’ve discovered is that Twitter is an awesomely useful tool for rapid dissemination of information. And as we saw with the fireball, it sends out misinformation rapidly, too.

    I’m not sure what to do about that, except to try to have the ear of people with lots of followers, and send them the correct info. The more folks who hear it, the more who will “retweet” it, and the faster we can step on rumors.”

    Honestly, that is a problem in all forms of media, even with days of editorial oversight. People make mistakes, information overwhelms them. You could see it in its full blown glory the morning of the 9/11 attacks, much information was disseminated that later turned out to be wrong. It’s just the nature of “breaking news”, the best that be done is to ensure that the information is corrected as it is disproven.

  62. I’ve been slammed for being the Twitter equivalent of a noisy neighbour. I don’t spam or do junky conversations (unless it’s funny), but I do update quite a bit. To be honest, I now approach Twitter as I approach blogging: I write what I find interesting, if peeps don’t like it, don’t follow me. I don’t like criticism to limit who I am or what I do, I do Twitter because there are genuinely interesting and lovely people there, I’ve made friends… through Twitter! A year ago I would have said this was impossible (after all, who can cram any information into 140 chars?), but it has turned into one of the most honest and spur-of-the-moment platforms to communicate through.

    As for breaking news, Twitter is the future. I’ve found myself using the Twitter search more than Google and many article leads for Astroengine have come out of idle banter and sharing of ideas. Take the mini LA earthquake (linked above). For us who experienced it, we tweeted as much information as possible. Yes, there was lots of noise and stupid jokes (“Woah, the earth shook for me… but the girlfriend was asleep…” etc…), but in about 5 minutes, Twitter users had narrowed down the epicentre to Santa Monica (30 minutes later USGS posted that the epicentre was 2 miles off the Santa Monica coast).

    The way I see it, tweet as much and as often as you like (within reason).If people don’t like it, and complain about it, perhaps they shouldn’t be following you.

    For the record, I follow you for your humour, wit and observations, the more the better is what I say!

    Cheers, Ian

  63. Gary Ansorge

    I don’t tweet because I don’t have a cell phone(mainly because I don’t want people to know what I’m up to).

    However, the instant, inperson news aspect sounds interesting. I expect we will eventually have some kind of rating system, wherein we know up front who’s a reliable twitterer with good/accurate/high density data and who is just a boob,,,

    You’re not a boob,,,

    GAry 7

  64. My $0.02

    Neither your nor Nancy’s coverage was overkill. Even with everyone retweeting each other on my follow list (it’s like inbreeding, or something) it was still easy enough to scan to get the right information. And I was in a lecture where I couldn’t listen to the NASA TV feed myself, so it was perfect. And it gives coverage to an event that otherwise would have been missed by more people, I think, even after the fact. It made the situation *real* to all of us, different that if we’d read about it later.

    It’s true that if people don’t like it, they can just unfollow you. But if your goal is to put out relevant, timely material to as many space-fans as possible, then I think you were right on target today and with Kepler.

    Yes, at the end of the day, those who don’t like live-tweeting can filter.

  65. Dax

    Another helicopter down just off Hybernia. An excellent chance to delve into the pluses and minsuses(sp) (could be) (english or US) of safety protocols,

  66. MadScientist

    If people complain you tweet too much, tell them they’re not your friend anymore. 😛

    Seriously though, can’t people click that little box with an ‘x’ in it?

    Have any bored sociologists done a study on “Chinese Tweetspers” yet? I’m thinking something along the lines of someone saying “I think I saw a flash from a bolide this morning” turning into “I just saw a UFO invasion fleet land in my backyard.”

  67. tarrkid

    This is no different than when a storm is blazing through your area, or OJ Simpson is crusing down the highway in a Bronco, or any number of “breaking news” events.

    You tune in to the local news station, and they’re scrambling. They’re reporting small snippets, anything they can get their hands on, and they’re even sometimes reporting incorrect information and then (maybe) recanting it later.

    We all watch those broadcasts – we’re all captivated – because we want to know what’s going on RIGHT AWAY. If anyone is bothered by the newscasters continually fielding calls from people saying “it sounded like a freight train passing by”, or “I thought I was going to die”, they just change the channel.

    Your followers can do the same, basically. Change the channel. Unfollow briefly. Filter. IGNORE. But telling you to tweet less because THEY don’t like it would be the same thing as me calling the TV station to tell them to put “Dancing with the Stars” back on because the tornado isn’t near MY house. They serve more than me, and so do you.

    I followed your tweets with huge interest. Keep up the good work.

    As far as dealing with the misinformation that gets retweeted, the only thing we can do is retweet the RIGHT information ourselves. I should have done that myself. Does it make for some people reading lots of retweets of the same thing? Sure. But, honestly, it’s not that hard to skim through it all, and if it IS that hard, well, you’re following too many people. 😛

  68. Papa Surf

    What’s Twitter?

    Ok Ok. I DO, in fact, know what Twitter is. I may just have to jump in with both feet …again.

    I tend to be a late adopter – I resisted cell phones till last year…

  69. CB

    Twitter needs a digest feature in which you can get less frequent updates from certain sources, with all of the info included in the digest.

    That would allow people to twitter to their heart’s content, while allowing the followers to throttle their view of the information.

  70. MadScientist

    Well, since your’e accepting complaints, I’ll invent a few more:

    Too many people comment on this blog; can’t you cut down on those numbers?

    Not enough people comment on this blog – are you filtering them or something, or are you just not as popular as PZMeyers? I bet you’re filtering. We’re all being repressed, you’re an enemy of free speech!

    Someone will always complain; even the ancient Romans said “Ne Iuppiter omnibus placet.” Not even Jupiter can please everyone, and I say that goes for any other god as well.

  71. CryoTank

    Dr. Phil,
    please continue Twittering. If it hadn’t been for you I would not have known about the ISS situation until later. And then probably and over-hyped version of the media.
    You and Nancy (and NASA TV) did an excellent job and I am really looking forward to your Shuttle launch coverage :)

    And if someone thinks you’re twittering too much there is an option for those: Unfollow!

    Not that I would do that, of course :)
    I enjoy your tweets and occasionally I reply with sarcastic or just joking messages, hope you don’t mind :)

    Keep going!!!

  72. Michael Parmeley

    I didn’t know about the ISS situation until I saw it on twitter. I appreciated being able to refresh to see new updates. If someone doesn’t like all the updates they can always unfollow you.

    It is your twitter account twitter as much as you want! I, for one, appreciated the information.

  73. I think what you tweet about is completely appropriate. Its if you start telling me that you’re heading for your third cup of coffee and what you want to order for lunch then I would think it’s too much. I’ve stopped following people like that. A respected communicator of astronomical goings on should tweet about those things.

  74. fos

    Why are comments on Pluto, the non-planet closed?

  75. Todd W.


    Phil has a note about that at the bottom of the first page of the Pluto post.

  76. MoMan

    Doesn’t anyone, in the spirit of Thoreau, stop and question the sanity and usefulness of all of this electronic nonsense? I am 66 and a very busy carpenter (taking a break now while it rains or I would have missed all off this “breathtaking” garbage). Most of you would question a drug addiction but you are guilty of something that is almost as detrimental, focusing time and energy on things of little consequence. While I build a house and grow a garden and tend to my herd of dogs and research a trip to Quetico with my daughter, you can stuff your twits where the sun don’t shine. Rain has stopped; back to reality.

  77. tweet it like you mean it!

  78. Belgarath


    I think it would be instructive to figure out if the people who said you tweet too much were following you and having updates sent to their cell phone. I actually just started using Twitter and put you and several others on ‘SMS’ update. I figured ‘hey, I have unlimited text messages, go for it!’ but oh man was that a bad idea. Pages at the rate of 2-10 per minute coming in sometimes. Bad Plan

    I like the idea of making a second Twitter account for sending out ‘THE BIG STUFF’

    I would then follow both of your twitter accounts, but I would ONLY have ‘THE BIG STUFF’ sent to SMS. This way when you hear about something like the ISS collision ‘event’ you could make one tweet to ‘THE BIG STUFF’ account directing people to either your regular account or wherever necessary. It would nicely satisfy pretty much everyone….

  79. Little SDO HMI

    first and foremost, I have always enjoyed your tweets and learned a lot from them. I do not think there were too many. If so, I would just skip and not read them all. And if worse comes to worse, I would just unfollow you. But I understand where you are coming from. I have experienced the same. There are so many things I could say and would love to share – but I also don’t want to overwhelm people. In my case, I am trying to hype up our launch, our mission. We are still on the ground, getting ready for launch. It is my intent to also bring a little bit of entertainment with the science and the behind the scene look. I enjoy telling people about “my feelings” of other missions, spacecrafts and instruments. Sure, not everyone likes to read as if instruments/spacecrafts were actually people. They prefer a science approach only. But I want people to connect to feel they can relate in some little way. That also means tweeting information that is not always full of information, but also has some entertainment value. Finding the middle ground is not always easy. I have come to the conclusion that if somebody doesn’t like it, they can always ignore my tweets and/or unfollow me. No harm done. Thanks for all your valuable information.

  80. llewelly

    Since this blog doesn’t have preview, I’m reposting my comment with fixes:
    I was going to put this comment on the blog about pluto, but comments are disabled there.
    On the page Ten Things You Don’t Know About Pluto, item 2,
    ( )
    I found the following error:
    The link “Back to Ten Things You Don’t Know About Pluto” is wrong; it links to the 10 things you didn’t know about the sun. Looking at the html I see:

    <a href=””>&lt;Back to Ten Things You Don’t Know About Pluto main page&gt;</a>

  81. Quiet_Desperation

    KFI 640AM here in So. Cal. reported on it before and after. Heard it on KFWB 980, too. The radio stations seem to do much better with news these days.

    Most of you would question a drug addiction but you are guilty of something that is almost as detrimental, focusing time and energy on things of little consequence

    Who are you to judge other people’s likes or interests, and compare them to drug addiction? Seriously. Because you are 66? Some people reach their 80s without acquiring any level of wisdom.

    While I build a house and grow a garden and tend to my herd of dogs and research a trip to Quetico with my daughter, you can stuff your twits where the sun don’t shine.

    Some would consider puttering around a garden to be of little consequence, or dealing with dogs. Not everyone can be a good enough carpenter to build their own house. Can you design a ten million gate ASIC like I can? Does it matter?

    You’re trapped in the common bubble of thinking all the things you like are Vitally Important and things you don’t care for are Utterly Pointless.

  82. Quiet_Desperation

    Doesn’t anyone, in the spirit of Thoreau,

    Oh, and if you really know Thoreau, you’ll recognize my handle.

  83. llewelly, its been fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

  84. Markus

    I don’t heart Twitter. It’s a medium, like many media, it has to be used properly, it is useless when not used properly or when you aren’t connected in a “correct” way. And the name is frankly idiotic, as much as the word “tweets” – they’re messages, nothing else. We don’t call photos posted to Flickr “flicks” all of a sudden either, they’re “photos” obviously. Suffice it to say, we should really be talking about “microblogging” anyway, since that’s what it is. Twitter has some competitors in the field, some of which are superior in function and uptime (Plurk seems to be popular in my circles).

    What do I really gain by knowing quickly, e.g., of that ISS evacuation and then near-miss? Is that important information that I totally had to know within seconds of it breaking into the word-of-mouth-(dis)information flow? Or was it just fine if I read or heard about it minutes or hours later, elsewhere in more classic media? Is this sort of being connected a substantial plus in my life, or is it wasting my time because it keeps me busy with too much irrelevant crap that people tweet about? Is Phil Plait so well connected to a Shuttle launch that I gain anything by following his tweeting (argh!) of it, things that I wouldn’t know just as well if I followed the launch live on TV or elsewhere? Or in other words, where does he get his info from, am I “better” connected through him then? Or not?

    All good questions, right? The point is, Twitter is a hype. It is assumed to be awesome and so cool and superior and the latest hot thing because it’s new and because everyone talks about it. But It is not good per se. It is useless without connections to good sources in your world. As such, it is not different from any other means of being connected, or of social (or antisocial…) networking. It’s just a tool (one that is often broken too), it’s not the reinvention of the wheel.

  85. SteveG

    BA tweet away!
    I joined Twitter just to get your tweets. I think you’re using it exactly how it is used best: send a lot of tweets when you have something to say, be quiet when you don’t.
    Works for me.

  86. Gary Ansorge

    AH! The golden years. They’re hear at last,,,
    and the golden years can kiss my,,,

    “Well, you know old people and technology,,,”

    I remember the olden days, when computers were the size of Mac trucks and you could spot the non-functional components by looking for vacuum tubes that were burned out.(All while walking thru the computer).

    One of these years I may actually obtain a cell phone(probably an iPhone, since my Son works for Apple). Then I can tweet too,,,

    In the meantime, I’m stuck with this old iMac,with 2GB of ram(more memory than existed on planet earth in 1960), a small hard drive(500GB) and this terribly slow 6Mb DSL line,,,Ah, when will technology catch up to my dreams???

    Tweet you latter,,,

    GAry 7

  87. Quiet_Desperation

    The point is, Twitter is a hype. It is assumed to be awesome and so cool and superior and the latest hot thing because it’s new and because everyone talks about it.

    Why can’t people just enjoy something? Twitter isn’t my cup of tea, but other people enjoying it doesn’t bother me in the least. Some folks like being up to the minute. Who cares? Why harsh their buzz?

  88. Markus

    Why harsh their buzz? Maybe because it is hyped in unreasonable proportions? Because it is occasionally touted as some sort of “future of journalism” or “future of news”, which it clearly is not? Because it’s becoming nearly impossible to consume more classic media without encountering some clueless anchor or producer who feigns coolness by tinkering with it in some obviously unknowledgeable way? Because people -especially people reporting about it- tend to fail to understand its implications and downsides? Because it’s just yet another superficial internet gimmick? Because it draws attention and human resources away from things that really matter? Because it consumes time even when avoiding it? Because all of the above can become pretty damn annoying after a while?

    I could go on.

  89. I agree with Chris. I think the best solution is to create a link to your own blog or website and just live-blog from there. This way the people who are interested can follow through you, and those uninterested won’t. If something REALLY important happens, tweet it. Otherwise, keep it on the blog.

    I’m all for live tweeting, but you also have to gauge your audience. Think of it like email – you can have a large subscribed email base, some who’d like to see an email a day about a product, but some only one a week.


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