Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

PDXBOOM -- The power of social media and the portland pipe bomb

2010-03-29 15:45:00
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Last night Markie and I were at home working away on our laptops when there was a deafening "boom" shaking the house and scaring the crap out of the cats -- not that I was feeling entirely relaxed about it.

I went outside to see if there was anything to see, and found all our neighbors on their porches yelling things to each other like, "What the hell was that?" It kind of reminded me of an old Twilight Zone where the world is coming to an end but we just don't quite know it yet.

Of course, the world didn't come to an end, and after calling 911 to be told "yeah, we know," everyone wandered back into their houses and their Sunday night routines (which judging by the bottles and glasses in everyone's hands, those routines include a lot of drinking...) A fire truck wandered through the neighborhood a little later, looking in vain for something to extinguish, but nothing was found.

This morning when I got up I tried to learn more about what happened. I found an article on the Oregonian's website that said the police and fire departments knew nothing, but that that Twitter was ablaze with discussion on the hashtag #pdxboom. People apparently heard it as far away as Vancouver and with no concrete answers from the city, rumors were flying online.

Twitter became a sort of a front porch with a lot more neighbors. The discussion went from concerned, somber speculation to playful fantasy where comments like Portland was trying to forcibly eject Lake Oswego and Doctor Who references abounded.

But then something more productive also happened. @spinnerin had created an interactive Google map allowing you to post where you were when you heard the BOOM and how loud it was, color coding your boom by intensity:

While completely unscientific from a data collection standpoint, this was one of those amazing Social Media moments. Suddenly you could see the "blast pattern" of noise. You could read the anecdotes of what people were doing or thought about the boom. It was better coverage than the traditional news could ever do with their random interviews of people on the street -- you could see what people around you thought, and get an idea of if your experience was the same as the people miles away.

And I like to think it helped the police find the remains of the pipe bomb. Clues were scattered through the postings, with more volume of reports than a cop on a beat could get. It was pretty obvious that the explosion happened in Sellwood, and the two reports from the river saying they saw a flash along with the boom could only have helped to focus the search on the east bank south of the Sellwood Bridge.

It's what I keep saying about filters and learning how to use these new media. It's not just Twitter, it's people using the Internet to communicate. Maybe they aren't communicating directly with anyone, maybe it's just a random posting that says "I saw a flash and heard a boom."

But this mix of random stuff brings a city of 1 million people together as if they're all on their porches figuring out what to do about the loud noise they all heard.

Bad Restroom Health Sign
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Audrey Eschright: Re: PDXBOOM -- The power of social media and the portland pipe bomb
2010-03-29 16:34:51

The map was actually set up by Reid Beels (@reidab), but several other people, including myself, helped set up a color-coding system, fix errors, export data for analysis, and so on. Definitely a group effort, including the hundreds who took the time to add a map marker documenting what they experienced.

Chris Daniel: KATU's story on the pipe bomb discovery
2010-03-29 16:35:24

Link to KATU's coverage of the discovery of the pipe bomb today:

Michael Bissell: Re: PDXBOOM -- The power of social media and the portland pipe bomb
2010-03-29 16:40:24

Audrey: Thanks for the correction -- I saw the original posting from @spinnerin as well as follow-ups to join the discussion on IRC about using Google Maps like this. But, of course, this was a fantastic example of the community building the tools, populating the tools, and using the tools.

All in less than 24 hours.

John Bissell: Re: PDXBOOM -- The power of social media and the portland pipe bomb
2010-03-29 17:03:02

And the power of social media continues. I found out about this story by finding this link on FB. Otherwise I would not have known.

Bruce Dickson: Re: PDXBOOM -- The power of social media and the portland pipe bomb
2010-03-29 20:53:34

Nice set of observations Michael. Hope there is no more of this activity - not exactly a couple of kids exploding some bungers in your letterbox!

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