Hmm, does the social web work in a crisis? Irene, Steve, Virginia, and Jason––four names one might give to a child or possibly a pet, names that over the past few weeks have left a lasting impression on the social web. Let’s examine what these events and their aftermath mean to our social web efforts.
Fail: Social Web + Mobile Service After Hurricane Irene
As someone who lives in what is technically called New England, Irene did some incredible damage not only near coastal areas but also far inland, as the media has covered along with the devastation in New York. Densely populated areas in these early Colonies developed back in the days of our first and only Revolution! Geographic barriers (rivers, mountains, etc.) often defined the boundaries of these old towns, and municipal infrastructure has been tied to existing human populations and often governed by poor, short-sighted legislation ever since. Fast-forward to Hurricane Irene and the reliance on above ground power, cable, and phone lines––thousands were without power for 14+ days. Ironically, major electrical providers like Connecticut Light & Power have advanced online systems that can give the percentage of affected customers by town, but once an over sized toothpick-to-be falls on the lines, off goes the power, phone, and––often––the Internet. The natural backup was mobile devices, which were also affected by damage from the falling trees, so the basic online functions that help people stay in touch were gone, leaving many in the dark in more ways than one. Connecticut-area Cox Media stations, including 95.9 The Fox and Star 99.9, banded together and broadcast three FM and two AM stations simultaneously, providing old-school radio information to those without Internet access. Hurricane Irene made it clear that:
- Many do not rely on the Internet for information.
- Once the Internet goes out, those who rely on it become disconnected.
- Traditional media sources have abandoned the core local-information food chain that made them successful in the past.
- Our infrastructure has no redundancy and needs an overhaul (think buried lines, faster mobile connections, and the ability for networks to bring cell service to disaster areas quickly, i.e., in hours, not weeks).
It must be stated, however, that many community officials and local news sources had outstanding hyper-local coverage after the winds subsided, with reports on closed roads, delayed school openings, and locations where people could get fresh water, charge phones, or shower. Some municipalities used robocalls or Twitter or Facebook, but that meant that users had to be connected to the social web via Twitter or Facebook (primarily). We love touting how deeply social media penetrates into the average American home, but not everyone is online and, even more important, not all have smartphones or know how to use the social web in a mobile environment. The argument can be made that the radio of the 20th century has been replaced with the smartphone of today, but the cell signal needs to be strong enough to hold the masses once they jump from one channel (landlines) to the other (mobile).
Steve: A Resignation Sends Its Own Vibrations Through the Tech World
On August 24, the media reported that Steve Jobs had resigned from his position as CEO of Apple. The vibrations were not the phantom feeling on your hip from your vibrating phone of choice––no, these vibrations were of a different sort. Analysts jumped at the news and hinted at an uncertain future for the tech giant. Former Apple COO Tim Cook has now taken the helm, and many believe that the iPhone/iPad-creating innovation machine still has two to three years of Jobs-era technology in the works. A pretend screenshot of Steve’s new schedule currently making the rounds on technology blogs jokes about his new daily task of managing Cook from afar. Regardless of the future, Apple brought innovation and put good design first with its operating systems as well as hardware. Without Jobs and his positive force, we might all still be coveting BlackBerrys with their amazing “scroll wheels” (but poor RIM’s future looks grim either way).
Farewell to the black turtleneck and jeans. Thanks for the leading Apple toward better products and forcing the rest of the market to catch up. Your efforts made the marketplace more competitive, and toddlers, fan boys, gadget lovers, and soccer moms the world over have you to thank for the delicious visual goodness that is iOS, the iPhone, and the iPad.
Virginia: Quake Rocks the East Coast
Sitting on the twenty-second floor in Midtown Manhattan Tuesday with two of my tech-loving colleagues, I was surprised by the shaking of my chair at 1:55 pm. While other employees leapt from their offices and cubicles, the sub-thirties jumped to social media and the mobile web. Utterly Orange contributing blogger John Mehl found mentions on Twitter that confirmed our experience as an earthquake, and I sought answers with the iPhone Quake Watch app by LateNightProjects. The intraplate earthquake situated in Mineral, Virginia, kicked off a social tidal wave (tweetquake) of content surrounding the natural event. Check the video below and coverage from Mashable. If people were watching Twitter in NYC, it is highly possible that they found earthquake posts before they felt the vibrations. The mobile web exploded with laughter shocks, and the left-coast folk were amused by the right-coast crazies as we screamed and ran from our homes and offices.
Jason: Coffee Lounge “Cyberpadlocked” on Google
Maybe it is the lingering sensation that someone or something is out to get you. Something perhaps in the social web. As reported by the New York Times, Jason Rule, owner of Coffee Rules Lounge, was the victim of a false “permanently closed” status on Google Places. As the article points out, this is an increasing trend, and the source could be competitors or angry customers/ex-employees.
The article highlights some important issues:
- We have no clue how to clean up personal or business online presences.
- Crowd-sourcing can go wrong, and preventative measures need to be in place.
- Businesses that aren’t on top of their online profiles can lose business.
Author: John Carew