Don't let anybody tell you again that the social media short messaging service Twitter is simply a time-waster for celebrities, media-types and other narcissists. It may indeed have its abusers, but when it comes to helping journalists cover breaking news - and relief organizations call for donations - Twitter has once again showed its value this week from Haiti and its worth earthquake in 200 years.
This should really come as no surprise for those who remember the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the "miracle on the Hudson," the initial hours of the Michael Jackson story and the Iranian election protests.
The first reports of the damage left by the massive Haitian quake, and the first pics of that damage, were sent via Twitter. Facebook also contributed to a large extent, but it was the speed of the Twitpics and tweets showing and describing the destruction that impressed me. Mainstream media organizations soon began sharing what they were gathering from the top social media networks.
On Tuesday - just a couple of hours after the quake first hit - I checked the #Haiti hashtag on Twitter. Obviously it was near the top of the "Trending Topics" list (those subjects getting the most traffic on the network), but for about five minutes the response was jaw-dropping; I watched an average of 3,000 tweets come in every 20-30 seconds. Every refresh of the site brought in a new flood of tweets detailing damage observations, calls for help, simple expressions of sadness or concern from users.
On Wednesday, the focus shifted to ways people could help with donations as they sent instructions on how to sent texts to the Red Cross and what supplies were needed the most in Port-au-Prince.
Twitter is not the be-all, end-all for journalism and, for that matter, communications, but it is becoming a very important tool in the storytelling tool box.
Amazon, "Game Change" and Kindle
Before Haiti, the big news spotlight was all about Harry - as in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his, shall we say, interesting choice of words to describe then-candidate Barack Obama's appeal to voters in 2008.
Those words appeared in the new political tell-all book, "Game Change." Good luck finding it in your neighborhood Barnes and Noble or Borders - or on Amazon.com, for that matter. It's out of stock on the Seattle-based e-commerce giant's website until Jan. 17th - and for a short time earlier this week, it was unavailable in e-book format for Amazon's hot-selling Kindle device.
The fact there was no Kindle support set off a cyber-firestorm of protest in the "Customer Reviews" section of the book's Amazon page. "Game Change" got a lot of positive five-star reviews, but it also got a similar amount of negative one-star reviews too. A small percentage of those were referring to the book's content, but most of the user thumbs-down reviews had to do with the fact there was no Kindle version available. "Why did I spend money on a Kindle at Christmas?" asked one customer.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I checked the "Game Change" page again, and sure enough, there was a link saying, "Looking for the Kindle version of 'Game Change?' Click here." That sent you to a e-book version selling for $8.61 - but it would not be delivered to your Kindle until Feb. 23.
That, as you can expect, only unleashed more one-star pans of the book.
Amazon officials would not go on the record regarding any of this. But it's really book publishers who decide whether they will release e-book versions of best-sellers at the same time the hardcovers hit stores or Amazon's warehouses. Some publishing houses are more supportive than others; some still think that e-books - usually at a much lower cost - will negatively impact hardcover sales.
It's interesting that considering the political nature of "Game Change," there's a new conspiracy meme worthy of Oliver Stone now making the rounds in the book's customer reviews section - the negative reviews complaining about lack of Kindle support are really being written by conservatives who are unhappy with the Sarah Palin revelations in the book.\
Nintendo: Wii like Netflix
For as long as I've covered Nintendo (13 years, going all the way back to my CNBC days), the Redmond-based company has always said that their game consoles were strictly for games. When Microsoft and Sony were playing up the fact that their then-new Xbox's and Playstation 2's could play DVD's and CD's, Nintendo proudly stuck by the games-only crowd.
Not any more. This week Nintendo announced that its Wii console, like the 360 and PS3, will support streaming movies and TV shows from Netflix. Netflix members can ask for a special disc sent to them, which will allow their consoles to stream the entertainment content for free if those members already subscribe to an $8.99/month plan.
So why the big change? A Nintendo spokesman told me that "Nintendo first and foremost remains a video game company. Our mission is to bring smiles to Wii users. Our partnership with Netflix provides an additional opportunity for users to get more enjoyment out of their systems."
The spokesman also assures me that the Wii's components - less advanced than the processors in the Microsoft and Sony machines - can "absolutely" handle the technical aspects of streaming video content over broadband connections.