How did you first hear of yesterday’s tragedy in London? Where did you search for more information?
I asked random friends these questions yesterday, techies and non-techies. Given timezone differences, many of my friends woke up to the radio telling them about it. Others heard because they peruse mainstream news sites with their coffee. Over and over again, i heard people express frustration when they tried to search in Google/Yahoo for more information. There was none; it was too new. Even the BBC barely updated.
I remember this feeling from 9/11. Knowing that somewhere on blogs, there was information. Knowing that people took photos. Knowing that names of survivors and victims had to be listed somewhere. And having no place to look. When the tsunami hit, a blogspot blog became a central focus for people trying to get information. But that blog still took a couple of days. Then again, it was a different kind of horror.
What amazed me was how my technical, blogging and tech-comfortable friends converged on three sites: Technorati, Flickr and Wikipedia. (The non-technical stuck to the mainstream news and called folks.) The front page of Wikipedia linked to the article that people collectively used to provide information. On Flickr, many photos were collected into community pools, TV images were photographed, and there were press folks asking permission to use different photos. On Technorati, the front page clearly showed that everyone was searching for information on London. Technorati saw traffic spike to 45% over regular levels.
Historically (::cough::), we turned to the TV for up-to-the-minute news of major events. Yet, today, we are finding that this is not enough. We don’t simply want the packaged reports of terror on auto-repeat. We want to know the functional details and have the ability to track down loved ones, narrow in on particular aspects of the situation, and hear from people on the ground. We want real voices, not TV-ified ones. The web allows people to be present across geographical location, to communicate directly rather than through the media, to actually access each others’ experiences instanteously. Now, if only the search process was simpler…