What Would 9-11 Be Like in the Age of Social Media?
During the President's health care speech two days ago, the shared experience that is the realtime Internet reacted to a perfect Twitter-fodder event -- Joe Wilson's "you lie" outburst -- with a surprising amount of conversation about the real issue in the room, health care reform.
This realtime 24-7 Internet did not exist in 2001. We had the earliest versions of social media, instant messaging and blogs. But we had nowhere near the household use of many-to-many communication channels like Twitter and text messages. For the most part we spent 9-11 watching CNN. The Web in '09 is more about doing rather than watching. Twitter asks, "What are you doing RIGHT NOW?"
Here's an exercise for today: Ask the people on your social networks what they were doing today in 2001. Get ready for lots of responses.
A look into the net reaction to more recent disasters offers some clues into what would happen in a 9/11-style attack today. Would Twitter be able to handle the scale? Would we all switch to Facebook? Even if overwhelmed, there's no doubt our real-time communication platforms would provide crucial information on survivors and those looking for loved ones, as Craigslist did after Hurricane Katrina.
Proto-blogger Dave Winer, who quite notably turned his Scripting blog into an outpost for 9-11 related information, made this prediction, in 2001.
"Someday soon every home will have a weblog, and we'll have great aggregation tools that allow us to quickly assemble lists of loved ones who survived. A new button on cellphones that says "I made it" and it flows the fact to all your concerned friends."
Here is how things would be different had the 9-11 planes been hijacked in 2009 instead of 2001.
1. Video, pics, and text from inside the World Trade Center towers
We would be faced with a avalanche of videos/tweets/pics from office workers still trying to figure out what was going on. As reader Jim Alden puts it, "#9-11 would have been a trending topic for 12 months." Eight years ago people didn't go around carrying a video camera in their pocket, much less an iPhone.