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For their children to be durable, it isn’t enough anymore for parents to merely teach them crucial stuff like manners and how to hammer a nail. Add to the list everything to do with Technology. Yet, many view the vast Internet Ocean with fear and trepidation–especially if their kids have already jumped in. This concerns digital instigators such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft who want everyone to feel comfortable and safe in the water. And that’s why they’ve teamed up with the Family Online Safety Institute to teach swimming lessons on a new website called A Platform for Good. more »
Thinking back on high school, no one wanted to be embarrassed in front of their friends. So why would we want to bring that on our children? more »
Just as they do face to face, kids love to socialize online. Four out of five online teens hang out on social networks. Some of them may like to tweet or dabble in MySpace, but practically all have a profile on Facebook. “No one had any idea how quickly and or how widely this would spread,” says Stephen Balkam, director of the Family Online Safety Institute which sponsored the new report by the Pew Research Center. more »
Technology can come to the rescue at D.C. events such as the October 30 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Sanity rally – where huge crowds fueled by social media come together in a real place.
That’s according to Curt Westerphal of Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., also known as AirPhotosLIVE.com. The Falls Church, Virginia firm was hired by CBS News to count heads at both the Comedy Central and Glenn Beck rallies. Curt got in touch after reading my Sanity rally followup in the Washington Post.
From a balloon tethered high above the Air and Space Museum, AirPhotosLIVE took pictures with an array of high-resolution cameras, combining the images with photos taken from atop the Washington Monument and a GeoEye satellite. In the same way a person looks down on a busy ant hill, these sophisticated eyes in the sky watch how people swarm and surge. Stunning photography and 3-D views of the Sanity rally can be seen on the Photosynth website.
“We are looking at patterns of movement and demand,” Curt wrote. “The crowd movement patterns we see from the air are valuable since they help transportation, security, first-responders and even Porta-Potty planners locate and track the flow of the crowd.” For instance, if the National Park Service used AirPhotosLIVE imaging, officials could see in nearly real time which subway stations were being overrun and let Metro know where to direct riders to less-crowded stations.
Soon, information could go directly to the crowd via their smart phones. We’re one inch away from having everyone there see the info,” Curt told me. “We already have a wireless downlink to our trailer. The issue is getting it out to social media. We could post it to a website right now. The limitations are really less technical and more political.”
That would be great if the cell phones actually worked, which they didn’t inside the Sanity rally. But, with enough planning, that problem can be solved, too. That is, if COWs roam the Mall. Cells On Wheels are mobile cell phone towers which temporarily stretch available bandwidth allowing phones to keep working. COWs were used successfully at the Obama inauguration.
Curt’s balloon also serves as a relay for walkie-talkie and 911 communications between emergency responders, even if they are on different frequencies. “The aerostat at 800 feet could allow a person at a distant station, say Greenbelt Metro, to talk to someone at the Reston Metro.”
But what happens if weather or something else grounds the amazing inflatable? “I joke about ‘one if by land, two if by sea’,” Westergard said in an email. “But two simple flag colors can tell a lot. Think hurricane warning flags or smoke signals. A flag at 500 feet can be seen from Tysons with binoculars. This city unfortunately may need that level of mass communication one day.”
Chalk it up to Reddit, Facebook and Fark for packing them in at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally on October 30. That so many people heeded the digital drumbeat so quickly is a loud wakeup call for D.C. event planners, as I pointed out in The Washington Post.
It paid that day to be a local. Heading out two hours before the rally, my cousin and I planned to take the subway, but when we saw the line, kept driving - to a parking space at her office eight blocks from the Mall. Our luck held when, walking toward the entrance, we spied people stepping through a break in the fence and slipped in behind them.
We were one jumbotron back from the stage. The crowd was blissful, but standing up and packed in like sardines. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, but looking around, I couldn’t help but worry: what if something spooked the crowd? The city was not prepared.
When Comedy Central filed for a permit September 8, the network estimated 25,000 people would attend. “It had to do with actual space they [the National Park Service] were prepared to allot to the event,” network spokesman Tony Fox told The Durable Human. “We had no idea how many people were going to show up.”
After seven weeks of negotiations - which included the network’s decision not to pay for extra Metro service - 60,000 was the number approved in the final permit just three days before the event.
But even before the network’s eleventh-hour decision to commit, the electronic outreach started. “Reddit[.com] did a donation push to encourage us to do the rally,” Stephen Colbert acknowledged at the post-event press conference. (Fark.com was ticked off he didn’t give social media enough credit for making the rally happen).
Two weeks into the permit process, 100,000 people had RSVPd on Facebook. Then, on October 20, Andres Glusman of Meetup.com told the Christian Science Monitor, “This is growing faster than any online Meetup we’ve seen.” According to Yahoo News, self-organized satellite gatherings were being planned in 801 cities in 67 nations.
All the while, the coolest guys on TV invited viewers across the flat world to a free party in America’s capital.
Comedy Central kept an eye on the online numbers and made some adjustments. On October 25, the Wall Street Journal said the network ordered extra port-a-potties “suggesting organizers expect a crowd of 150,000 people.”
Metro put some extra trains and personnel on standby, but D.C. authorities were reluctant to go much further. “We did see that there was a large number of people RSVPing on Facebook,” said Park Service spokesman Bill Line. “But we have also found that for prior events, that’s not always an accurate gauge either. People will say they are coming and then don’t.”
In the end, precise aerial images paid for by CBS News showed that 215,000 people attended the rally. That’s not counting the thousands who tried but failed to ride the overloaded public transportation system to get downtown. “It’s kind of fascinating to us,” said the Comedy Central spokesman, “Facebook on the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert web sites came out to be 300,000.”
Looking back, it’s clear that DC event planners must re-think the way they do business. Besides reacting more quickly to Internet input, they need to better leverage the permit approval process to compel event sponsors to help pay for support services of all kinds – from extra Metro trains to bike valets.
For their part, private sponsors should get a better handle on attendance, perhaps by asking rally-goers to register in advance and charging a nominal entry fee to cover externalities.
Another problem to reckon with is that during big events on The Mall – like the rally and President Obama’s inaugural festivities - cell phone service is overwhelmed so no one can make or receive calls and texts.
To be able to do its job properly, the National Park Service must be fully informed. Congress banned the agency from making crowd estimates following a political dustup after the Million Man March in 1995. But in the new millennium, computer-analyzed imaging eliminates the shades of grey which might have prompted politically-motivated lawsuits.
The Washington Post Ombudsman suggested that a media consortium should share the cost of using such technology to make estimates. But since federal authorities already rely on the same imaging techniques for other purposes, Congress should end the ban and allow the Park Service to again be the crowd-estimating agency of record. (See Comment about capabilities of aerial imaging from AirphotosLIVE.com below)
With enough time and publicity, an event called by a charismatic worldwide figure could end up larger than any one country’s presidential swearing-in.
But Washington certainly isn’t the only place which must cope with increasingly massive crowds. Last summer, Shanghai was hobbled (shanghaied?) by sheer numbers at its World Expo. Waits at exhibits spanned up to nine hours.
Because of the burgeoning world population, designers and engineers from Rochester, Massachusetts and any other Institute of Technology must work to find better ways to fit lots of people into defined spaces. Maybe by going to a modular design, an exhibit could have multiple entrances and a five-hour wait could be cut to one.
Like it or not, the headaches of managing huge communities which come together in real-life spaces are here to stay.