Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Carpe Datum

The abundance of video, photos, tweets, text and voice calls from those in Boston on Monday has become a major part of the news story as we shift from the first shock and horror to efforts to solve the mystery and catch the bomber(s).

Newscasters and pundits have been repeating the fact that there is so much more surveillance video, as well as snaps captured by everyone with a cell phone, than in previous events such as the Atlanta Olympics bombing, subway attack in London, and other events.

Of course, making sense of all that data is another story. Professionals and fancy technology have a role to play. And so do distributed communities, such as Reddit users, who've been busy uploading, sorting, and tagging photos - as a volunteer community. The willingness of many to help has to be balanced against the potential for mob justice or vigilantism - and you can see both at work in the discussion boards where volunteers are active.

Individuals also quickly stepped up to aggregate and curate the tweets, texts, blogs, and wikis offering help - by late afternoon Monday this site, which uses RebelMouse to aggregate info from social media, was already busy. Note it had information on everything from formal institutions such as the Red Cross and Boston police to kind Bostonians offering a place to get wifi to airbnb rooms for stranded runners. It also had information on charity scams. It's amazing how quickly services such as Google Person Finder, OpenStreetMap, and Twitter have become part of our collective responses to disasters. Each of these services relies on digital information - data. Our ability to share it, make sense of it, painstakingly tag and search it. We are surrounded by digital data - for both good and bad. It's up to us to use it right.

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