Monday, November 30, 2009

Manhunt: Google Wave for Community (Emergency?) Communication

What can I possibly write except that I am so sorry that 4 officers of the peace who were working on their laptops in a coffee shop just as thousands of us do daily were killed apparently because of the uniforms they wore yesterday? There are no words. My heart hurts for their families. May justice be served swiftly, safely, and very soon.

As of tonight the suspect is still on the loose (edit: he was killed early Dec. 1st), and for most of today many in Seattle were trying to figure out what exactly was going on as the police went from one neighborhood to another to check out tips. It's not too much of a stretch to use librarian jargon, this really is information seeking behavior in an emergent stressful situation.

How can we understand where users turn to fulfill these types of information needs? There are always the usual media sources; newspaper, television & radio in what I now think of as three forms - traditional, website & social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, etc) in addition to everyone else participating online as well in social media.

Then things went in an interesting direction when The Seattle Times proposed this on Twitter:

I was one of the first 25 there. It eventually ballooned up to over 500 individual Wave accounts and bots, then it appears the Wave has died & lost functionality as of this afternoon. Google Wave is only in preview mode and been pretty unwieldy once the numbers were over 100 in other waves I'm on so I can't say I'm too surprised.

It was an interesting ride while it lasted though. These are some brief points of observation from my perspective of how it was used that may be helpful as Google Wave further develops and others consider using it as a community or emergency communication channel. I welcome additional perspectives in comments (moderated due to spamalopes), if you were there what's your take on how it was used and progressed?

  1. People initially joined and created new blips (discussion threads) asking and replying to questions.
  2. People then self-organized, still creating new blips but turning one towards the top into a type of wiki functionality with general sections and links to information.
  3. People refined the wiki functionality by adding deletes, citations, timestamps and other identifiers to the information in addition to creating new blips.
  4. People then wondered if it was ok to delete outdated/extraneous blips, decided among themselves it was since the Playback feature would record them all, and did so.

This is a screenshot towards the end of the third stage, click to enlarge:

Where I went librarian with an undergrad communications/journalism background was picked up as updates number 1 and 5 at's coverage of this use of Google Wave.

The comments in Another Google Wave Use: Manhunt at TechCrunch are excellent thoughts to consider: What if people deliberately posted misleading information there? What about spam? Sure enough someone did put some rather annoying robots in the Wave and the ability to remove them is nonexistent at this point in Google Wave's development. The screenshot TechCrunch got is during the initial self-organization phase.

My hope is this entry is close to my normal blogging. I've sustained a minor head injury tonight and like the good medical librarian I am I'm neither panicking nor diagnosing myself but I keep mentally running down the head injury symptoms checklist to see if there's anything troublesome. So far there isn't!


Blathering said...

Fascinating use of a new technology. Just goes to show that users find ways that developers never expected.