BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- As the East Coast endured an earthquake and hurricane, many relied on social media last week to find out what was going on and keep tabs on loved ones. It was a luxury we didn't have a decade ago when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon."After Sept. 11, 2001, the way people were communicating about missing loved ones was posting paper fliers all over New York City," says Jeannette Sutton, senior research scientist for the University of Colorad at Colorado Springs' Trauma, Health and Hazards Center. "Then, a couple of years later, with the tsunami in Asia, there were significant numbers of people who were missing. Instead of putting paper fliers all over the place, people were posting pictures on Flickr. You saw, very quickly, the movement of how people were sharing information, shifting from physical, direct communication to online communications."
|Since 9/11, Twitter and Facebook have evolved into go-to resources following disasters.|
On Sept. 10, 2010 -- one day before the anniversary of the Word Trade Center attack -- Microsoft ( MSFT) pulled the plug on a service named Microsoft Vine that aimed to be a communication tool in times of crisis, especially for people shut off from traditional lines of communication. A company memo detailed the decision to scuttle the project: "The decision to discontinue future development of Microsoft Vine was not easily made. Multiple options were thoroughly explored and evaluated with rigor and in the end it was determined that Microsoft Vine is not sustainable as a stand-alone offering." While that corporate giant couldn't find the right formula to bridge and adapt the wealth of data, individuals, groups and smaller companies are getting into the game. "With the Haiti earthquake, we saw the rise of the volunteer tech communities, which are working alongside emergency managers, but in a volunteer capacity. They are actually monitoring that information, curating it, then mapping it. They may not be able to go to the disaster scene and help with directly serving the victims, but they can do what they do by looking through information that is available online," says Sutton of the University of Colorado at Boulder.