Plans for a computer network allowing communication between systems were devised in the 1960s, and in 1969, ARPANET emerged. It was a myth that the network would allow communication after a nuclear attack, but it is true that the robustness and survivability of the network were tested – a network that could function even if parts of it were destroyed or incapacitated. Packet-switching networks as we know them were born – and the next thing you know, you have a thousand friends updating you with their furry animal photos.
Over the last few days though, these elements of robustness and survibability come to the fore. As the Eastern seaboard of the United States is battered by Hurricane Sandy, Google.orgs Public Alerts system is assisting by providing vital safety information for affected residents. This isn’t just a resource of weather reports – this is a complete resource including storm tracking, weather updatesand traffic information, Google’s interactive map shows power outage details and shelter details. In a city where power is out in numerous areas access to television or wired internet may be difficult, the mobile friendliness and adaptability of Google’s service is proving to be a valuable guide for New Yorkers. These updates and alerts are available via the familiarGoogle Search browser page – and also via Google Maps and Google Now for Android users. The sharp innovation, is the ‘pushing’ of public service alerts – these alerts will be shown – or ‘pushed’ to you if you search for specific terms.
As mobile internet use nears 20% of total web users, the importance of a mobile platform to deliver this type of time and location data is revealed quickly. FEMA, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency have an App available for a iOS and Android, a good initiative for a state agency. But given human nature, how many of us are likely to download an app like the FEMA? Perhaps soon, if we share our location data to a site like Google or Facebook, organisations will proactively push us a message or at least choice to download relevant apps or even shortcuts to relevant emergency response information online. As social, search and wifi networks become ubiquitious in society, it’s becoming easier to push them into service, for all the right reasons.
In a time when hype and hysteria about product launches, IPOs and the (sometimes frivolous) currency of the technology industry can overrun us, it’s reassuring to know, that technology does it’s job when it’s needed, and for millions of American’s on the US Eastern seaboard, that’s today.