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dodo1Twitter has replaced Techmeme as my favourite source for knowing what’s hot at this very moment. That’s because people tend to talk on the microblogging tool before they take actions that require more time or commitment such as blogging or starting a Facebook group.

When I checked Twitscoop this afternoon to see what was hot on Twitter today, I noticed that the most discussed term was “embargo” – something that caught my eye as an erstwhile journalist and current PR guy. The news that everyone was buzzing about is that TechCrunch, arguably the most influencial online publication has announced that it will no longer honour embargoes. In a post titled “Death to the Embargo” TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington writes:

One annoying thing for us is when an embargo is broken. That means that a news site goes early with the news despite the fact that they’ve promised not to. The benefits are clear – sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize them first as having broken the story. Traffic and links flow in to whoever breaks an embargo first.

That means it’s a race to the bottom by new sites, who are increasingly stressed themselves with a competitive marketplace and decreasing advertising sales.

A year ago embargo breaks were rare, once-a-month things. Today, nearly every embargo is broken, sometimes by a few minutes, sometimes by half a day or more. We can’t continue to operate under these rules.

Arrington says TechCrunch will continue to agree to embargoes, but will then break them. The problem, he writes, is that there are no real consequences for publications that break embargoes.

A year ago, when com.motion released our First Annual com.motion-Pollara Social Media Barometer, I decided to experiment with embargoes. I offered the Globe and Mail an exclusive embargo on a few questions and offered a dozen bloggers one exclusive question each. Several agreed to play, but some said embargoes and exclusives don’t make sense in a blogging world.

This year, I tried a different experiment, sending out a message on Twitter that I would offer the full embargoed results to anyone who tweeted me back. Only a couple bloggers were interested. (Many more posted about our results after we formally released them).

Offering embargoes – especially on an exclusive basis – increases the chance of coverage. There are stories I wrote at the Globe because they were exclusive embargoes that I wouldn’t have written if everyone had them at the same time. But embargoes have no value when the news is sent to everybody if even one reporter breaks the embargo. Embargoes have become more common and mean far less. We need to get back to a place where they’re less frequent, more exclusive and respected by both sides. And publications that break ’em need to be punished for the good of those that don’t.