30 March 2010

[pdx] What I Saw At The #PDXBoom

If I didn't love Twitter before, I do now. As it is, I enjoy the pal-making, chaotic, cocktail-party chattering that happens. And, occasionally, it makes sort-of history.

For the first time that I can remember, sitting in front of your computer all day actually made a little more sense than going out and doing something. Fortunately, Mondays being days off for me, I had the time. And the ongoing Twitter-driven saga of the #PDXBoom was a compelling show I couldn't ignore,and better than anything on the TV.

The activity on the Twitter hash-tag has damped down quite a bit after yesterday but it's still going on, mostly people tweeting and retweeting the observations they had about the power of social media and sharing articles they were reading. The take-away from all this seems to be that the chaotic buzz of social media and geekery surrounding #PDXBoom made a sort of history. It also made for great fun.

1. Portland Makes History Via Social Media.

As the story goes, Reid Beels, local member of the Open Source community, got the inspiration to make a Google community map after seeing tweets that were coalescing under the #PDXBoom hashtag. Even I put a marker down (Didn't hear any noise; we suspect the unicorns), and by the beginning of the day Monday it was fairly thick with reports about who was where, what they heard, and what they thought it was.

The map became known as PDXBOOM as well and, minor technical problems not withstanding (the edit button on the Google community map seemed to be a little fugitive) provided a great view, on its own, of the spread of the phenomenon.

The vigor at which the map was pinned alone seemed to be a phenomenon of its own. The boom just seemed strange, and I sensed there were a lot of people who were compelled by not only the need to understand but also perhaps a similar event that happened about a week or so prior that also had no explanation. But people loved it, and people loved marking it up.

Today, Reid Beels was featured in an article published in the New York Times, and the combination of the map and Twitter #PDXBoom activity seemed to appear as more of a making-real of the sort of activity that social media was supposed to enable, in the good way, collaboration by hundreds or thousands toward solving a problem or a mystery, which dovetails into the second thing:

2. We Are Detective, We Are Select.

As it happened, the Portland Police Bureau is aware of how powerful a tool this is, and their savvy use of the Twitter buzz and the Google map was admirable. Embedded within the PDXBOOM map were, as I intimated, descriptions of the event with most of the markers. The quality of the reported report allowed a sort of inductively-logical triangulation.

with the map on Google is a link to download a .kml file which will bring the info into Google Earth. This I did, and I too found out how useful it was to track the spot. The most remarkable reports were given by those near the Willamette River in Sellwood, such as these screen clips will show:

Another nearby sighting claimed it was like "somebody parked their car in my living room". Most of the reports from Sellwood were that way. Clues were left all over the place.

3. The Front Page, The Twitter Version

For me, the most entertaining facet of the whole thing was watching the local TV Newsers communicate and tweet about what they were going to find and what they were going to do next.

For my money, the two most Twitter-able electronic media organizations in town are KGW-Channel 8 and KATU-Channel 2. They seem to get Twitter more than the other outlets do. And they updated the punters with what they had when they had it.

The following was from my asynchronous point of view and what I remember; your mileage may indeed vary.

But it seemed to become a competition between them, right out the old days of newspapers. As it developed that, what eventually everyone would find out - it was a big-ass pipebomb buried in the Willamette River's left bank south of the Sellwood Bridge in an undeveloped strip of land between Southwest Riverside Drive and the River called Powers Marine Park - was figured out by KGW and KATU, and they were off to the races with it. First tweets, from the KATU crew, came in the 11:30 AM to Noon-or-so time frame, intimating that they knew what was what and if you tuned in to KATU for the 4 PM and 5 PM TV reports, you'd know all about it too.

All of a sudden, though, KGW piped up with tweets about how they were sending Pat Dooris out right then to check the site out, and in pretty short order, KATU tweeted what they had found out from Portland Police. And, at 4 PM, there was Megan Kalkstein on KATU, on the scene - and able to say that they were the first ones out there.

As a fan of newsers, it was a great thing to watch ... two passionate news organizations going it in an old-school journalistic style, with the immediacy of Twitter added in. I think of it as evolution in action.

4. It Was A Big Party ...

& and all you had to have to show up was something that drove a browser and accessed Twitter.

There was a lot of antic fun going on. We found out that Heather of Mile73 and Dave of Dave Knows PDX were getting engaged, and there was much rejoicing. I got new pals, notably, KPTV's reporter Mark Ross who, with help from one other person, got up to 100 followers.

It was a BYOB party, to be sure, as most distributed dos are. But there was an air of festivity and fun. A lot of people chiming in, a lot of witticisms cracked, a lot of music recommendations shared, a lot of new connections forged.

I made some new friends of my own, not the least KPTV's Mark Ross, of whom me and one other person helped him get over 100 followers. He's someone who's got a cat, he claims, who thinks he's a dog, which is okay by me. Anyone can have a cat who thinks he's a cat.

Many of us seemed to be skeptical that the boom could have been heard so far off - after all, how could a pipe bomb be heard all the way from Sellwood to I-205 (in some cases - not mine, but some)? The Big O's movie maven, Shawn Levy, reminded me that the heavy clouds and the damp air could have made it travel quite far.

And that's another thing I love about Twitter. It's the great equalizer. It doesn't matter that I'm not, say, aplusk? No. I've made connections that I never thought I'd ever make, and they're just people - most of them are pretty nice. Besides, what would I do with over four million followers?

(Mind you, I'm not entirely against finding I have four million followers some day. Just sayin')

I was thrilled to be there myself. And even though my only real contribution to the map was a marker near 117th and SE Market saying "I heard nothing", the thought of that being even the smallest part of this thing that made a little bit of modern social media history was pretty cool.

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