I’m going to keep this blog post technical because the emotions from yesterday’s events are still too difficult to deal with. Within an hour of the bombs going off, I received several emails asking me to comment on the use of social media in Boston and how it differed to the digital humanitarian response efforts I am typically engaged in. So here are just a few notes, nothing too polished, but some initial reactions.
Once again, we saw the outpouring of operational support from the “Crowd” with over two thousand people in the Boston area volunteering to take people in if they needed help, and this within 60 minutes of the attack. This was coordinated via a Google Spreadsheet & Google Form. This is not the first time that these web-based solutions were used for disaster response. For example, Google Spreadsheets was used to coordinate grassroots response efforts during the major Philippine floods in 2012.
Phi Beta Iota: This is the first attack on US soil to have the full 360 degree coverage of social networks in real time. Others have already noted that bombs do not take limbs off (unless specially prepared with flechette rounds, not a normal bomb round), and that the smoke looked theatric rather than explosive. Still others have noted that a bomb response exercise was planned for the same moment. We have no direct knowledge — our only observation is that this is the one event where social media and 360 degree analytics can confirm — or call into question — the official account of what has happened and how many have actually been killed or wounded.