Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Breaking Baseball News Moving to Twttr

Anyone who's been following the recent evolution of the mainstream baseball media knows that, increasingly, news is broken on Twitter. Reporters crave being the first to report a "scoop", and Twitter offers the most immediate platform from which to break news to the masses.

However, technology cycles turn over with ever-increasing rapidity, and Twitter's time in the sun seems to be ending already. In this world of instantaneity, seconds, even milliseconds, count, and some of the new nano- and, yes, pico-blogging services make Twitter look clunky and out-dated in comparison.

This new class of clients is still in its infancy, and as such, no-one has emerged as the dominant player in the field. Possibly the most popular at the moment is Twttr, whose slogan reads: "N vwls, n prblm!"

One of Twttr's main competitors, Ie, claims even greater time savings, but readability is a fairly major concession. Their slogan, for example, "o ooa, o oe!", is completely incoherent, and though they attracted a strong initial user base with their glossy efficiency statistics, have had trouble retaining those users.

So we're keeping our money on Twttr edging out the competition, at least for the moment, in this burgeoning market. Twttr's claim is that words contain "up to 100% vowels", and therefore, using their client saves a corresponding percentage of one's time while not sacrificing readability.

This second claim seems dubious when one starts to actually read content from Twttr. Ken Rosenthal, one of the most prolific news breakers in baseball, has caused a flurry of accidental uproars with his Twttr-induced ambiguity. On Tuesday, for example, Rosenthal twtd: "L t L!" Naturally, baseball fans immediately associated this with Cliff Lee, one of the hottest free agents of the 2010 off-season, and the popular belief was that Rosenthal was reporting Lee had signed with either the Dodgers or Angels, or "Lee to LA!" As it turned out, Rosenthal was just saying "Let it le!", a mistyped homage to his favourite Beatles song.

We're also skeptical of the assertion that typing without vowels saves time. Have you ever tried to type without vowels? It's unnatural, and as such, is probably actually slower than typing in normal English. But in the desperate race for the baseball-reporting equivalent of "FIRST!!!1!11", writers will try anything.

On a related note, we're not sure exactly what Twttr's business model is, since it seems to offer a service that is completely possible on Twitter.

Despite these concerns, however, it's difficult to dislodge the momentum of crowds. The usage of Twttr and similar services is skyrocketing, regardless of whether they're at all useful.

Another service which has just launched and as such has yet to gain a significant audience is Three Button Reporting. The company bills itself as a high-end add-on to Twitter geared specifically towards reporters, allowing them to get news out as quickly as possible. The premise is that reporters can purchase a package of customized buttons of varying sizes and shapes that, when pressed, automatically populate tweets with the appropriate information.

TBR has already seen success in "yoga breaking news" and "hot chocolate breaking news", and is nearly finished prepping a package specific to major league baseball.

In the MLB package, a reporter's desk area would be specially fit with a set of buttons for each of the thirty teams, a set of player-buttons corresponding to players commonly mentioned in rumours, and a set of emotion-buttons to convey the nature of the rumor. When a reporter gets a scoop, he might press "CLIFF LEE", "BOSTON RED SOX", and "HAPPY". This process would take mere seconds because of the efficient button interface (the CLIFF LEE button would be among the largest given Lee's prominence on the free agent market this off-season - akin to the tag cloud concept), and a tweet would automatically be sent containing the following: "Cliff Lee Boston Red Sox :):):)".

At first, fans may find the emotions confusing, but the company is counting on a standardized system naturally developing within the ecosystem. For example, HAPPY might correspond to free agent signings, ANGRY could refer to non-tenders, and TIMOROUS might be related to trades. An e-mail sent to the company asking what a TIMOROUS emoticon looks like didn't garner a response.

While Twttr may lead the pico-blogging charge given its ease of use, TBR should win out on the strength of its efficiency, despite its steeper learning curve. TBR also has a sustainable money-making model in place. Of course, the system requires reporters to stay attached to their workstation 24/7 (literally... the system powers itself by drawing a small but steady stream of blood from its user), but we figure that won't be a problem since reporters just live in their moms' basements. Or is that nerds? Can't remember that stereotype.

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