I have been writing a lot about mobile social networking lately, and over the past 2 days have experienced the power of it first hand.

Below is a summary of how a few reasonably low resolution pictures of the new Heathrow Terminal 5 on opening day ended up on a new social media website, Now Public.

I was quite excited to learn that my flight back from Moscow on Thursday 27th March was going to arrive at the new Heathrow Terminal 5, the £4.3Bn project at London’s largest airport.

I had my Nokia 6110 ready to photograph the arrival, and the inside of the terminal for posterity, given that London does not open a new terminal every day!

I took some shots inside the plane, including a shot highlighting my boredom while waiting for the ground staff to connect the airbridge to the aircraft, and within 12 hours it has already found it’s way to a blogger’s site.

Within 24 hours I was being asked for approval to use the photos on a new citizen journalist website called Now Public (I had never heard of it before, but it looks like it may take off).

So how did these pictures get from my 6110 and off to a global audience? The route taken is quite simple, but it is a very good example of how powerful social networking is, and how the various mobile and web based applications make this process super efficient.

Step 1: Take photos on Nokia 6110 and send to photo sharing site Flickr directly by using mobile application Shozu and a fast 3G+ mobile connection.

Step 2: Organise the photos on Flickr, make public and provide tags that tell other users what the photos are about

Step 3: People searching Flickr for photos to do with the developing story around the Heathrow Terminal 5 disaster find my flickr pictures on the subject

Step 4: Amy Judd, from the website Now Public writes a story and seeks permission via my flickr profile to use the photos for the story

Step 5: I approve the email request, and at the same time sign up to become a member of Now Public

Step 6: The pictures go live to augment the story, and have even been used on another Now Public story – BA Pulls Terminal 5 Ad Campaign During “Meltdown”.

With this new source of social journalism, it got me thinking about how the this aspect of social networking may start to challenge the mainstream media outlets.  24 hour news services in the UK such as the BBC and SKY News already use photos taken by the public, and solicit comments for use in news programs and on their websites.  In fact last year I heard from Eve Conway who is a BBC Journalist and more recently has been an online producer for the BBC, responsible for filtering the literally thousands of photos sent to the BBC in response to current stories. In my experience, they never publish more than 10 viewer generated photos per story. 

Perhaps sites like Now Public will give those citizen journalists (which is pretty much all of us, armed with a camera phone and a fast 3G mobile internet connection) who are “live on the scene” as a story breaks the ability to get their stories up live to the web before the satellite trucks from the mainstream media have left the studio on the way to the scene.

I’ll be watching closely how the crossover from social networking to “crowd powered media” evolves.

Websites referenced in this post: www.nowpublic.com www.bbc.co.uk/news www.sky.com/news www.flickr.com www.shozu.com