Yesterday the 13th of July 2011, Mumbai was once again rocked by bomb blasts. With the cell phones networks failing due to the load of calls on the network, people stranded in office turned to their computers for the first news.
It was a bit sad to see that the Indian online news channels were mimicing what they were doing offline on television: Re-broadcasting the same visual over and over again in endless loops. Most Indian news channels are yet to fully leverage the online space to propagate news effectively to its techy target audience.
With little to be learnt from news websites and Reuters stoically sticking to a one statement release till it gained news it could verify, there were few options to turn to. I decided to turn to Twitter as this has proven to be the medium in the past that has propagated news quickly. True to its reputation people had started tweeting on several twitter hash tags about the blasts just half an hour or so after we got the news. Initial tweets were those of people reaching out providing shelter and support to those who needed it. People uploaded their phone numbers asking people to call if they needed anything.
The question that arises then was why wasn’t news agencies tweeting on these handles as well. True we don’t want news agencies to fill this with their ridiculous clutter but if they could provide valuable, verified information to broadcast, twitter was the place to do so. Google docs was used to share an excel file of helpline numbers and contact details of various people. Another interesting way to reach out to people in need.
What would have been interesting to see is Mumbai Police having someone in their control room tweeting on these hash tags and helping in the dissemination of information. This would especially help to prevent the traffic snarls that plagued office goers trying to make it home after the explosions took place. It could aid in the quelling of panic and could also direct the attention of aid agencies were help was needed. As India is likely to face more such calamities in the years to come, kudos will go to those news agencies that not get on the online band wagon but use it to their advantage and the public’s interest, effectively.