In Case Of Emergency, Alert Social Media

In Case Of Emergency

I found out about the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday from Twitter, while sitting in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. My Twitter stream and Facebook news feed were flooded with hopes, prayers and news stories about the ongoing crisis. Googling “Boston Marathon explosion” brought me to a New York Times article posted two hours earlier. Flipping back to Twitter I saw someone had posted a Vine of the actual explosion. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was really something I wanted to watch, before clicking play. Police are now requesting videos or photos from anyone who witnessed the event in an effort to piece together what went so very wrong.

 With the slew of social media evidence of this atrocity joining the Internet’s infinite photo album of human suffering I have to wonder, to what extent are we being negatively desensitized by social media? It is obviously important to understand what is happening in the world, but how much is too much?

Another recent event comes to mind when considering the effects of social media on emergencies. One month ago a vigil was held in Brooklyn for a 16-year-old who had been killed by police. The shooting, however, was not the main story. Residents who participated in the vigil marched to the 67th precinct as a form of non-violent protest. Social mediaites present or following the story began to tweet about the protest with the tag “#brooklynriots.” Participants quickly became active on Twitter requesting that those tweeting about the event use “#brooklynprotest” instead, in order to prevent any misunderstandings about the nature of what was occurring. This points out the fragile nature of social media in emergency situations, and has opened up a debate about the use of specific words.

When social media acts as a rumor mill, it can have devastating effects. To me the real problem, however, is the effect that constantly updated news is having on the attention span of empathy. It is a safe bet that in one to two weeks from now the social media streams will be clear of mentions about the Boston Marathon explosions. They will be refilled with other information, likely including a few new disasters or catastrophes. My concern is that we are losing the ability to care about anything for more than a few weeks. Aren’t families still suffering from “superstorm sandy”? Once individuals confirm that their own loved ones are safe via text messages or phone calls, do they stop paying as much attention to a catastrophe if it doesn’t directly affect their lives?

I do believe social media has proved itself to be a valuable tool in times of emergency, but at the end of the day I still wonder, are we only concerned with what everyone else is talking about?

Reddit: The Gold Standard of Online Communities

bb-redditAs far as online communities go, reddit stands out from the rest. Created by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005, the site is both a hub and a home for the citizens of the Internet. (Rather than explain reddit in detail, I suggest you follow the link and check it out for yourself).

So what makes reddit so remarkable?

Where to begin. From raising over 14k for a man with kidney cancer, to providing a shopping spree for a young girl with huntington’s, to mailing 70 birthday cards to one user’s dying grandmother, to the “Random_Acts_Of_Pizza” sub-reddit, the site exemplifies the altruistic abilities of the Internet.

Not to make this blog post sound entirely starstruck of the reddit community, I will note that there have been negative cases in the news relating to reddit. This is unavoidable in any community, online or off, and shouldn’t make people afraid of becoming involved with online communities.

My own personal experience with reddit has been inspiring, enriching, and a lot of fun. I use reddit to learn, ask questions, and engage with other users. One of the highlights of my involvement with reddit has been participating in a number of the exchanges. I first got involved with this when I stumbled upon the r/snackexchange sub-reddit. The snack exchange is a magical place where strangers exchange candy and snacks from all over the world. Sounds incredible? It is.

Studying abroad in London I was hit with a serious craving for girl scout cookies. I posted a request on r/snackexchange, and was contacted a few hours (!!) later by a reddit user in Texas who said he’d trade me girl scout cookies for some English snacks. I received a huge box a few weeks later, with this inside:

Reddit Snack Exchange

Reddit Snack Exchange


Last May I participated in  the reddit cookbook exchange. This exchange program is different than the snack exchange, with exchangers being paired anonymously. I sent a cookbook to an assigned reddit user, and someone else sent me a personalized vegetarian cookbook (along with other goodies).

Reddit Cookbook Exchange

Reddit Cookbook Exchange

Most recently I took part in the 2012 reddit secret santa. I sent out my gift, but never ended up receiving anything. Consequently the program rematched me with a super-hero secret santa, who sent me this incredible assortment of gifts:


Reddit Secret Santa 2012

Needless to say, I have been deeply touched by the friendliness and kindess of the reddit community.

So what does the reddit community teach us?

Claire BeDell wrote this great piece on what reddit can teach Community Managers about anonymity, setting boundaries, and comment moderation. Reddit is the perfect example of how the Internet has something for everyone. The site is proof that no matter what you’re interested in, other people with that common interest exist.

And at the end of the day, reddit exemplifies commendable community service both online, and off.

Experiencing Online Community, Offline OR Why I Love Yelp

yelp life

I learned about the Yelp Elite community this past summer while watching Ligaya Tichy’s TED talk on rethinking startup communities. I was intrigued by the images of fellow Yelpers eating and partying together in cool venues. I thought to myself, “wow, this is my kind of community”.

I researched the qualifications needed to become a Yelp Elite in San Francisco, and discovered that it was extremely competitive with Elites having reviews numbered in the thousands. This wasn’t that surprising considering that Yelp originated in SF. As a newbie Yelper in SF my chance of becoming an Elite was about as good as my chance of reaching the intersection of Market and Octavia when the light was green during my post-work commute. So although I continued to use Yelp as a resource, I put my dream of becoming an Elite on the backburner.

When summer ended I headed back across the pond to spend another semester studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Returning to my favorite eating haunts, I was inspired to get my review on. If you’ve ever started writing Yelp reviews while procrastinating then you’ll understand how addictive it can be. A few weeks later the Yelp London Community Manger, Alex Shebar, contacted me with an invitation to join the Yelp London Elite Squad.

Needless to say, I was pumped.

Though I was initially somewhat intimidated by the idea of meeting a group of strangers who were older and more experienced Yelpers than myself, I brushed my fears aside and attended the next upcoming event.

It. Was. Awesome.

Suddenly I was making friends with interesting new people who had tastes similar to my own, seeing parts of London I would have never otherwise seen, and best of all for a student: getting to try amazing restaurants for free. The worst part of the experience is that when I leave London in four weeks I’ll be leaving behind an amazing (growing) crew of Yelpers (who have promised to come do some Yelping with me in SF). I’m also comforted by the thought of meeting more Yelpers in Hartford while I finish my last semester at Trinity College.

In preparation for writing this blog post I rewatched Ligaya’s TED talk having now experienced the Yelp community first hand, and it blew me away. Instead of summarizing the points she makes, I’m going to include her TED talk here:

Looking at the Yelp community experience from this angle, all I can say is that everything Ligaya says in her TED talk is absolutely true. The genuine friendships I have formed through the offline gatherings of the London Yelp community have enriched my time in London like nothing else could have. I feel so lucky to have had this experience, and I will continue to advocate becoming active in the Yelp community to my friends, acquaintances, and readers. If nothing else, I hope you will consider getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

You never know, there could be free food.