P2P Keeps the World Connected

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Lisa Rein

Lisa Rein
Sep. 13, 2001 06:11 PM

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While the broadcast media focused primarily on the hysteria of Tuesday's events, P2P networks proved to be the best sources of accurate information while playing a key role in connecting people together, locating survivors and keeping business going as usual.

Ultimately, the amateur reports and photographs from people at large proved to be the most accurate sources of information. Mailing lists, weblogs and collaborative discussion boards such as Slashdot and Metafilter provided a steady stream of reliable information.

Picking up where cell phones left off, Instant Messaging and Blackberry e-mail pagers were used to ease the worry almost immediately. "There was no way I was going to stay frustrated by the non-knowledge of where everybody was," recounts New Yorker Richard Laermer. "I got updates from everybody about everything, including how my friends were. I ticked them off, one at a time."

"Web sites and chat rooms became meeting halls; instant messages and e-mails replaced phone calls," explains USA Today writer Janet Kornblum. "People wanted two things: reassurance and information."

IRC channels, such as #bomb_breaking_news at irc.indymedia.org, enabled users to compare notes from different news sources from all over the world. There was much discussion among bloggers, and numerous maps, photos and simulations emerged rapidly, and mostly from amateur sources.

"The most amazing, futuristic thing about the Current Situation is the amount of civilian-generated content and coverage, from amateur photos and videos to first-person accounts to grassroots survivor-lists to the passengers themselves, making wireless calls to the ground as they prepare to rush the cockpit," writes Cory Doctorow, co-editor of BoingBoing, a group weblog he co-edits with Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz. "The world has changed," he declares. "The filpside of the Orwellian nightmare of the panoptic surveillance society is the voracious data-gathering and republishing of the distributed world, a weird utopia of ubiquitous information and observation."

Weblogs were brimming with both information and commentary about other reports. An almost immediate backlash against some of the hysterical press allowed comfort before any snowballs had a chance to start rolling. Other weblogs, such as that of Jason Kottke blogged some great first hand accounts fresh from New York City. Other bloggers, such as Jish Mukeji, provided palm pilot news drops that could be accessed via traditional browsers over Tuesday's overloaded Web.

Brooklyn-based Science Fiction writer Bill Shunn started a New York City Bombing Check-In Registry focused specifically on providing a forum for survivors to notify their loved ones that they were ok, but had to remove it when his servers were quickly overloaded. Other registers popped up for confirming safety reporting missing persons, including: Prodigy, Boston Coop and Viexpo.com, all in advance of efforts by the Red Cross or the White House.

"With help from Dave and the Blogger Search Page , I've spent much of the last two days reading first-hand accounts of the horrible events in NYC and D.C. and personal reactions from people all over the world," writes Cami Walker from her nutz'so weblog. "Thank god for personal journalism because the coverage we're seeing in the mainstream media is painfully repetitive and barely scratches the surface. It feels very restrained and controlled to me which is probably best for the country at large right now. But it has been helpful for me to get a sense of what real people are thinking and dealing with."


Lisa Rein is a co-founder of Creative Commons, a video blogger at On Lisa Rein's Radar, and a singer-songwriter-musican at lisarein.com.