Aside from the obvious humanitarian issues around the recent bombings in Boston, arguably the biggest story was the role played by social media, both in reporting on events and subsequently in hunting down the perpetrators. This involvement had both good and bad elements, with a mixture of useful information and inaccurate rubbish.
This has been a trend in many breaking news events in recent times. During the London riots a few years ago for instance, there was arguably more bad information spread on Twitter than there was accurate insights.
It's a problem that's not only impacting upon so called citizen journalists. Reuters Matthew Keys was widely criticized for his coverage of the bombings due to the scattergun nature of his commentary, with numerous inaccurate nuggets of information spread throughout the day.
A new service is aiming to sort the good from the bad, leaving us with a news stream that we can rely upon. The service, called Verily, is being created by researchers at the Masdar Institute of Technology and the Qatar Computing Research Institute, and is due to launch this summer.
It takes an editorial approach to curation, allowing users to collect and analyse evidence in return for reputation points. They believe that the use of reputation can significantly help matters, and cite the likes of eBay and Amazon as examples of sites for which this is the case.
Such crowdsourced initiatives have worked in the past, but most have relied upon some kind of commercial incentive for putting in the work, so it will be interesting to see how Verily go about recruiting people to their effort. It's a concern shared by Ivad Rahwan, co-founder of Verily.
“Recruiting people to join is part of the issue, but we also need to figure out how to remove false reports,” Rahwan says. “Where the balloon challenge took nine hours, we hope to facilitate the crowdsourced evaluation of multimedia evidence on individual incidents in less than nine minutes.”
The initial beta version will be trialled on a real world event, such as a hurricane. The founders have selected natural disasters because they tend to come with a degree of warning, so they can prepare organisations to use the platform.
Information posted to Twitter would then be shared on Verily and the community of users would be asked to verify its accuracy. As feedback rolls in, the reputation of the original posters would rise or fall. These scores could then be used as a currency in their own right, so for instance someone with high reputation could have more weight behind their own votes.
How effective this approach proves to be will only emerge through time, but it will be one that social networks such as Twitter will paying close attention to.