Paramedics speak of the Golden hour after a heart attack when the patient stands the best chance of recovery with minimal damage , if brought to medical care. In many ways, the hours after any natural disaster / act of terror are as important , not only to save lives in danger but to also prevent further bloodshed or create panic.
Much has already been spoken of the support provided by people on social media such as Twitter with people aggregating contacts and details to provide quick responses to people stranded or in need of accommodation. However two immediate queries come to mind – a) Was this limited to exclusively Twitter users or did other non Twitter folk also receive help? b) was there any central point where all aggregated data was collated for future reference / to provide Government or NGO’s with immediate data points for help?
My point is not to belittle the important role that Twitter has played today but to take it one step forward. In the course of any natural disaster/ act of terror, it is but obvious that the phone networks are clogged and unresponsive. At such moments, alternative social networks like Twitter provide an alternative backup system for people to respond to and ask for help. In foreign countries, disaster management is a specialized science with distinct drills conducted for such events. In India, I fail to see either a disaster management plan or any coordinated drills with coordination between the Police, the Fire brigade and a centralized authority which has been monitoring the information and provide corresponding info to the parties involving in management. Equally important, we as a nation , need to accept that the citizens need distinct training. I refer to creation of specific citizen committees with clear demarkation of roles for people and clear evacuation plans for all buildings and major points. Regular drills need to be conducted so that we are also equally aware of what needs to be done.
I see great potential in exploiting the growing masses with smartphones to act as individual information aggregators and disseminators. If the government or state governments can come up with measures to collate information on social media, through data mining techniques or with the consent of the media channel, they could use this information to get a better idea of the state of affairs. Further people with smart phones could also be used for dissemination of vital information such as common meet-up points, contact information and information on safety. Other technological advances which can be of great use to us, is the easy availability of camera phones which, if connected with modern telecom systems, can provide doctors an instant chance to provide spot diagnostics for people injured or trapped at the scene of a disaster/terrorist event.
A lot depends on telecom dependability during and after such events. Telecom Carriers have still not conducted feasibility studies or sensitivity checks to determine the extent that operations will suffer during such events. It lies in the hands of the Govt. and telecom carriers to ensure suitable backups/ alternatives that can help Indian citizens counter such events better.
As one of my friends on Facebook defined it superbly – Nonplussed – the act of standing around while everyone around you has a Google Plus account. Google plus, which has been launched recently, has been termed as a Facebook killer and the buzz (Oops) around it has been phenomenal. However some people are still doubtful about the possibilities and the extent to which Google can launch a social network to challenge existing networks like Twitter or FB.
There is a common misconception that startups possess a greater propensity to innovate / have greater incentive to innovate. The incentive / propensity to innovate comes with the corporate/ company culture. There are firms such as IBM which have been able to consistently maintain the culture for decades, as can be proved from their company history. However it is true that startups do possess an advantage of being at the edge of latest research and have the ability to change direction quickly in comparison to most large firms. However it is as much a factor of risk tolerance as it is of size and propensity. The startup may enjoy a few benefits of an early advantage but it can be negated very quickly by a large firm choosing to enter the field.
Another common misconception is that Social media as a trend is fluid and people will soon shift to the next upcoming media channel just like people shifted from Orkut to Facebook to Twitter. However what people forget is that Social Media is an evolving channel. The dramatic changes we have seen in the last 10 years rival the changes seen in the telecom space two decades back. What however we need to realize is that the choice of media channel will not matter as much as how we are able to make users both generate and promote content. The channel is but a choice. However users do believe in the importance of user experience and this is one place where both large firms and startups are equally ignorant and at equal risk.
What one really needs to remember though, is the story of Psion. People forget that Psion was way ahead of its times. It came up with amazing innovations and brilliant concepts but consumers were pretty happy with their first product and were equally happy with getting a few simple needs satisfied. Psion is the origin of at least three path breaking ideas (Ipad, GPS systems and Satellite Radio) but these ideas could not get accepted as most people were unsure of the business potential for such ideas.
The true advantage of a huge firm like a Google or an IBM or a Microsoft is not about its innovation. It can choose to innovate through promoting its own talent or acquiring talent. The true advantage lies in its ability to take risks which other firms cannot. Google has burnt its fingers twice earlier with Wave and Buzz. Each time it has learnt valuable lessons about privacy and true sharing of content which it has applied in Google Plus. Though I have been using Google Plus for only a day, I like two of its features – one the ability to choose whom I allow to follow/ be followed and whom I share content with, and secondly, the ability to take all my data with me through Google Takeout if I choose to leave. Google has addressed two major concerns of most existing social media users – privacy and data control. Equally important is the changes it has brought in controlling and managing conversations, which has predominantly been a feature much needed in Twitter. Each time, users lose out on useful conversations which cannot be saved or noted as the TL moves faster than one can blink.
One has to realize that firms can choose to innovate horizontally or vertically. The big firms enjoy the advantage of horizontal innovation through their access to talent across spheres of technology . If there is something a startup does which is really interesting / innovative, the large firm will probably just incorporate it into its systems the next time. Classic examples are those of Tweetdeck shortening of links being integrated into Twitter, Facebook Messages being converted into mail and so on. The problem for a small firm to grow big or innovate majorly lies in accomplishing innovation which is of no interest to the existing major firms. Sadly most firms seem least interested in taking that risk