G20 update; crowdsourced crisis information live

crisisjpg

More cameras than protesters?

It appears that the amount of media presence, Internet and otherwise, is having a large magnifying effect on the perception of the protests themselves.  A Google blog search at 16:36 found over 997,000 blog hits for “G20 protesters“, over 3 million web pages, and nearly 15,000 news items.  That is probably several orders of magnitude higher than the number of protesters actually at the site.

Traffic on Twitter seems mixed, with a large amount of discussion on the role and impact of the media.  Notes such as;

4.28pm:
On Twitter, Snufkin21 says Stop the War protesters booed the mediapresent “for hyping up the G20 violence”. The huge media presence has been criticised by a number of people on Twitter who believe it’s encouraged extreme elements to “play to the gallery”.

Are intermixed with live accounts such as;

4.07pm: 
Police on horses have carried out two charges down Threadneedle Street in a bid to disperse protesters, says Alok Jha, who is at the scene. Alok said everything had been calm beforehand and demonstrators have not been impressed by the police response.

Mixed messages

There are a variety of conflicting claims being made, about the magnitude of violence, the presence of the media, and the reaction of the police.  Reading the Twitter feed directly (Twitter search, #G20) yields a confusing array of opinion, advice, updates, and news items.  Including the following excerpts;

DanSpringWell done the Police today at #G20. Felt safe in Romford disaster recovery office!

pgb63Stephen Harper tasered at G20!

AcostafGetting far away from #G20, Cannon st and London Bridge working as normal

Protests + Internet = Force Multiplier

This is an interesting mix of content, coming fast and furious from all angles.  It is reminiscent of  many aspects of the ongoing discussion between Paul Currion and Patrick Meier, about the issues around crowdsourced crisis data.  Paul writes that, “crowdsourcing is unfamiliar, it’s untested in the field and it makes fairly large claims that are not well backed by substantial evidence.”

Among it’s dangers, we argue, is the rapid magnification of false or intentionally deceptive data.  Patrick calls this “crisis magnification“.  We discussed it in depth in here.  What we are seeing with the G20 protests in an excellent example of this.  No matter what is actually happening on the ground, there is a massive, unfiltered, and confusing amount of information being generated. 

Here comes everysource

While we can argue that this massive generation of fresh live content is a good thing (as Patrick does here), it is clearly a new thing, with uncertain outcomes and value.  Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”, writes about the problem of filtering this massive amount of information.

The old ways of filtering were neither universal nor ideal [referring to TV and print]…  Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media; so much larger, in fact, that many of the old ways are simply broken.

What is interesting, he notes, is that although it is possible to for everyone to read anyone’s blog, Twitter feed, or website, it is not possible for anyone to read everyone’s information.  

In fact this isn’t the way it works.  The vast majority of this content is generated by people close to or within your social network (personal or professional) and is intended for people close to or within your social network.  Web 2.0 and social media has taught us that although there may be over 250 million blogs on the Internet, the vast majority of this information is local, read by practically no one, and only intended for your friends and colleagues. 

Crowdsourced crisis information FOR YOUR FRIENDS

Could the same principle apply to crowdsourced crisis information?  Crowdsourced crisis information won’t be broadcast in the traditional sense, with millions of people listening to a single source.  Instead, communities of trust and relationships will build over time, with individual air workers, responders, and agencies building networks of trusted information sources just as we build networks of trusted friendships.

It isn’t as if field workers and disaster responders will go to any old Twitter feed they find and trust any bit of information they get texted about.  As in all social media, they will go to the ones they trust first.  Crowdsourcing doesn’t change this, it just lower the bar of entry for participating in the conversation.

Paradoxically, this new flood of information might end up having the opposite effect; crisis responders who only pay attention to their trusted sources and ignore the “weak signals” flooding in from all sides at once.  

Or maybe the opposite might happen?  Maybe the promise of crowdsourced crisis information has nothing to do with aid responders.  Maybe it will work just like Facebook, MySpace, and other forms of social media work.  A bomb goes off in your neighbourhood, you text your friends, who Twitter their work colleagues, who call their parents, who write a blog post read only by their cousins.  Maybe the AP will pick it up, maybe there will be value for figuring out how many dead and wounded need treatment.  

But at the end of the day, perhaps crowdsourced crisis information isn’t all that different from any kind of shared information; it all depends on who you talk to.

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2 Responses to G20 update; crowdsourced crisis information live

  1. Sean Lowrie says:

    This is cool stuff. Crowdsourcing is just one example of an exciting trend toward mass collaboration that has been enabled by social media.

    Clay Shirky also argues in his book that social media reduce the transaction costs in collaboration – in other words, cutting out the ‘middle man’. ‘Middle men’ could be brokers, filters, managers, even organisations themselves. So as we are seeing with the g20 reports, when brokers and filters are removed, we suffer from a deluge of information without guidance on what information is reliable.

    It is still too early to tell how mass collaboration will develop in the near future. Perhaps, as this post argues, most people will rely on their pre-existing social networks for guidance on information reliability.

    Perhaps new types of filters and brokers will emerge, based less on today’s ‘expert’ model, and more on a ‘share’ model.

    In other words, influence in an age of mass collaboration may result from how one shares information. People acting as filters and brokers will re-emerge. Their legitimacy will be based on reputation rather than qualifications or mandate.

    The question for me is what will create the reputation. Massive weak tie networks? Highly selected strong tie networks with other filter/brokers? Talented weak signal monitoring? Capacity to synthesise information?

    Thanks for such an interesting post!

  2. Noah says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for your comment. I predict that aid organisations, massive bureaucracies that they are, will actually push back and try to marginalise crowdsourced, social-media derived information.

    Why? Because they are the middle man between the “donors” and the “recipients”, and cutting them out means reducing staff, overhead, and the ability to secure funds.

    You ask “what will create the reputation filters?”. Probably first movers into this space? Everyone knows and trusts Ushandi. Why? Are they the best? Maybe. But I argue it is because they were the first to really do this well. Thus they’ll accrue all the advantages of experience, expertise, and preferential selection that others will have years to catch up on.

    Another possibility is that we’ll see the emergence of local care networks, empowered by such technology. So the “trusted filters” will be the people that are already trusted in the community, for better or for worse.

    Then again it could be something totally new!

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