Sunday, September 27, 2009

G20 Pittsburgh Summit

I followed the news of G20 on Thursday and Friday evenings by obsessively updating Twitter search. I'm not very swift when it comes to learning computer stuff. For example I use Open Office Writer frequently and have for years. I'm appalled that I still don't know how to do rudimentary things with it: What are styles? I also seem incapable of being succinct about any subject; probably revealing my ignorance of most subjects more than anything. So while I'm happy to look at my Twitter stream, I don't put up tweets.

Earlier this month I learned about riots in Kampala early through updates at Facebook. I know some folks in Kampala so I was keen to find news, but little was available. So I turned to Twitter searching #Kampala. Because I read some Ugandan blogs, some of the persons putting up tweets were known by me. Following retweets, people copying tweets they find relevant so their Twitter followers will see them, I was able to identify trusted sources; following friends of friends. The riots were very worisome and as it turned out some of my friends were affected by the violence. It probably is a little strange, but the flow of tweets during that crisis was engaging. I tend to stay up far too late, so I was getting real time updates.

Appfrica "is a web portal for the latest news related to African innovation, education and entrepreneurship in technology." Incredibly quickly after the riots Jonathan Gosier, CEO of Appfrica Labs,wrote an incisive piece about citizen reporting of the event with thoughts about how to make such reporting more useful, entitled Asynchronous Info, Disjointed Data and Crisis Reporting.

I was eager to use Twitter as a source for information about the G20 Pittsburgh Summit. In advance of the event I followed people and planned aggregators at Twitter. But when the pedal hit the medal, the generic search #G20 seemed the best way to follow events. Posts at times were coming fast and furious, and as a "Trending Topic" the thread included Spambots. Still it was easy to identify credible sources, even when I hadn't known about most of them in advance. I was quite impressed that reporters from various mainstream news outlets were participating in the stream.

People were listening to the police radio and tweeting what they heard. For example a tweet was broadcast that four hooded actors were at a certain location with the added directive: Leave Now! The other side of the coin was that at one point the police dispatcher remarked that their Twitter intelligence was pretty good! Network research scientist Valdis Krebs wrote for One Web Day:

The technology that gives You the power to organize,
also gives Them the power to watch.
I'm not sure where that leads us, but it was hard to miss during the action.

Because I know Pittsburgh well, I was able to place addresses and to recognize places in photos and videos, even the grainy ones taken with cell phones. On Thursday there were some windows of businesses broken. A friend of a friend put up photos on Facebook taken from inside her place of work across the street from the action. The photos were good enough to use for identification of the perpetrators. Probably the most serious of all the property damage done was done by one guy from California. My father was incredulous about the report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I reminded him of the location of the banks damaged and pointed out that the corner had to be one of the most photographed in all of Pittsburgh. If there were more involved they're certainly on tape and can imagine no reason the authorities would be holding back.

The photograph is from Mark Knobil's G20 photoset at Flickr. Mark is an accomplished cinematographer. I love his still photographs and often enjoy them best large. Prior to the event we were talking in a group of friends speculating what might happen at the G20. I suggested that the police probably wouldn't let marchers go beyond a particular street. I pegged it about right, what hadn't occurred to me at the time is what it would mean for the neighborhood where Mark lives. I suspect he was more prescient than me. His photos from his neighborhood move me because I love the part of the world where I live. His photos are brilliant in general, and if you want a sense for what Pittsburgh looks like you can really get a feel for it exploring his posted photos of the region.

There was lots of press touting the transformation of Pittsburgh from a sooty industrial town to a greener high-tech industrial base. This article in The Christian Science Monitor is a good example. But what the articles fail to convey is how painful the collapse of the steel industry here has been. Coping with that transition has been a defining effort for people of my age locally. It seems as though I'm reaching for something other than "misery loves company," but perhaps there is a bit of that in our local character. At least there is a shared experience of loss and attempting to make tranformative change.

Seeing the city reflected through the lens of international attention has been interesting to me. I'm eager to get together with others to talk about the experience. I wonder if anyone else was paying attention to Twitter? My hope is the G20 has stimulated our thinking about what we might do together. We've come along way as a region, but surely there's a long way still to go.

1 comment:

DaisyDeadhead said...

Yeah, that article about Pittsburgh reminds me of THIS (page down, about Greenville). Same thing, it came at the very high price of an old textile-mill way of life.

I collect old buttons and have one from an old Pittsburgh radio station: Can't BEAT Steel HEAT, it says. (I think its WPIX?) Frankly, I hate to see that kind of identification go away. :(