As the Virginia Tech tragedy unfolded students used a familiar the technology to keep connected with the events, friends, and families: Facebook.
Using laptops and wireless connections, students created new Facebook groups on the fly as the day unfolded. Thousands of people joined a group called “I’m ok at VT,” which was used by students to announce that they were safe, ask for details about friends unaccounted for, and to report the names of victims. Other groups such as "VT Unite" were also created and thousands of people world wide not associated with VT joined them.
The use of this social networking site to publish and discover information and report personal experiences was a natural since it is what today's students use to gather online. Facebook provided immediate and quickly-updated information.
As I watched the quality of the footage released much it was obviously generated by camera phones. In my Technology Trends for 2007 post I described the emergence of a concept called Mobcasting, a phenomenon where event observers capture events on their video phones and podcast the footage on a blog. I described how the the resulting aggregation of content will lead to live event coverage by bloggers that is more in depth than can be captured by mainstream media. This tragedy demonstrated of power and potential of this concept.
Unfortunately, there was dubious information also being created. There has already been media debate about the accuracy of the information that was contained on these sites. Of course, traditional media outlets have processes they use to vet information before it is released. While this verification of information takes time it is not flawless (Dan Rather, Jayson Blair). The trade off is that is one wants to have information faster it may not be as dependable or reliable.
Still, I think there's a great potential for the ability to connect individuals that are there on-the-ground during events as they unfold and using blogs, RSS feeds, and Facebook as tool for publishing their personal experiences. While some can argue the result may not be as accurate as mainstream media, the coverage is significantly more complete.
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