Twitter’s “fail whale” highlights service’s limitations. What’s the answer for a news organization?

It had to be one of the classiest-looking tables full of tweeters in the short history of Twitter.

There they were – Palm Beach Post reporters Carlos Frias, Mike Bender and Andrew Abramson – decked out in jackets and ties, tweeting away under the glare of WPBT-Channel 2 lights as they covered live the debate between Jeff Greene and Kendrick Meek, Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, taking place at our newspaper’s offices.

Carlos and Andrew banged out 80 live updates during the 90-minute debate, while Mike wrote a news analysis almost in real time as he also tweeted and kept the blog updated.

The reporters had about 80 retweets or mentions of their updates from 25+ people, including Meek’s public relations staff. Other tweeters in the community promoted our updates on their own, many using the #pbdb8 hashtag, which was created for this event.

Finally, an additional 45 or so people directly tweeted or retweeted links on their own to our debate page with the live video, with comments like “Check out the live debate” and “In case u aren’t watching.”

These are decent numbers for our corner of the Twitterverse, and they indicate a high level of interest in this political debate.

But the live-tweeting didn’t go without hiccups. Twitter was having worse than usual network problems that day, often serving up the infamous “fail whale” instead of tweets.

This slowed the reporters’ ability to update and – of course – made it impossible for the general public to see the tweets at certain points during the morning.

Twitter’s network problems raise larger issues: We sometimes may be relying too much on a service over which we have no control, and we don’t get many pageviews for our own site when we use Twitter to cover an event live.

Because of this, in the future we should think about balancing Twitter use with that less-trendy standby, live blogging, as CMGd’s social media manager, Mathilde Piard, pointed out to me when she and I talked recently about Twitter’s woes.

By posting updates on our own site (whether on a blog, a CoverItLive chat hosted on our page, or other), we get the pageviews, we’re able to integrate links and photos more easily and elegantly, and we’re not beholden to a domain whose technical problems we cannot do anything about.

And Twitter can still be used to promote and to direct people to our blog or other page on our site.


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