Twitter, the microblogging, social IMing, blog marketing, watercoolerish communications site, has been creeping into mainstream consciousness this year.

I used it in October during the Online News Association conference to live-broadcast proceedings for people who couldn’t make it to Toronto.

Though I’m sure I wasn’t the first to do it, I felt like I was. “Twitter? What’s that? Why bother?” was the common response when I asked people to follow me.

Since then, however, people seem to have grokked Twitter’s value. You see more people tweeting conferences and more people and news outlets putting their stories and blog post pointers online.

But perhaps the real power in Twitter is in speed and community. Not only were media outlets able to broadcast breaking news updates, non-media people also sent updated, on-the-scene information. Talk about crowdsourcing:

  • Benazir Bhutto’s assassination: Several Twitter feeds broadcast word of the initial bombing, but first word of Bhutto’s injury and eventual death came from BreakingNewsOn, which claims to be “your most credible Twitter news source.”

    It appears BreakingNewsOn does a lot of wire and presser crawling, but the founder, Michael van Poppel said in an interview he’ll have a website soon and intends to form partnerships with news outlets to provide constant breaking news feeds. Established media who want the breaking news space to themselves had better have a plan in place.
  • San Diego wildfires: Though ably covered by KPBS, Nate Ritter, a web consultant based in San Diego, also blogged and tweeted real-time, getting his message out to several hundred followers (and possibly more lurkers).
  • Police and fire response: A few police and fire departments have made their feeds public, including the Franklin police in Massachusetts and the L.A. Fire Department. Maybe not so interesting, but it could be a useful source.
  • Traffic: Everyone wants to know how their commute will go. Drivers in Honolulu post updates to, which get fed to a Twitter feed. (“Kokua” means “help” or “assist” in Hawaiian.) SacTraffic keeps Sacramento, Calif., drivers updated on the latest traffic incidents reported by the California Highway Patrol.

    Even fliers can get information on the latest airport delays. Chicago’s O’Hare International, LAX, the New York area and Paris’ Charles De Gaulle all have feeds, though I’m not sure who’s providing the info. More airports can be found via on_The_Road, though not all of the feeds appear to be routinely updated.

As more people make Twitter an everyday part of their lives, news gatherers should think about how best to incorporate it into their strategy, both for source hunting as well as information dissemination — and make sure to grab logical usernames before someone else does.