I have had an interesting experience or two over the last week as our neighborhood has considered using Twitter for emergency communications. Here's how it went:
Someone in our neighborhood suggested that Twitter is a good tool for instant one-to-many communications. The neighborhood's Yahoo listserv isn't necessarily ideal for urgent community notifications because 1) it is monitored by volunteers who sometimes can't get to the messages quickly enough and 2) many people simply subscribe to a single summary e-mail every day. So it was determined that Twitter is probably therefore a much better tool for sharing emergency updates. The technologists and community organizers agreed, so it was determined that the idea should be flushed out in more detail. In the meantime, I went ahead and reserved the @RosedaleAustin Twitter account.
The next day a reporter from KEYE TV was monitoring the neighborhood mailing list & decided to talk to Austin Police about it -- the use of Twitter to share emergency/crime updates. So she did a pre-emptive news story on the idea that aired as the top story on the 10pm news. Slow news day I guess, but it was interesting to see this idea evolve literally overnight into something that was at least newsworthy.
I went to the neighborhood association meeting & the item came up on the agenda. "Did we want to talk about Tweeter?" LOL First they polled the room to see how many people were on Twitter. My hand and one other went up in the room of 25 people. They then asked me to talk about it... I told them that it is probably the right way to communicate certain types of urgent messages but it also takes a reasonable amount of participation to succeed. i.e. what is the benefit of user-generated content when 10 houses out of 1,200 contribute and get updates? That's where it appeared to fall apart a bit... Twitter went on trial for a few minutes. The idea seemed to be dead until someone who has lived in the neighborhood for years observed that the group had the same conversation ten years ago before setting up the listserv.
So it lives... we have ~10 followers now and it's growing. Now we're working out the rules. i.e. who is allowed to join the list, who is allowed to post messages, what types of messages are allowed/disallowed/etc. I'll report back with more details as we go.