On the morning of July 7th, 2005, I was jet lagged in Minneapolis, watching CNN at 2:50 in the morning, when reports started coming in of a general failure on the London tube due to possible multiple electrical explosions. When, an hour later they reported the bus explosion in Tavistock Square, I knew that this must be a coordinated terrorist act, so I logged in and looked at my buddy lists. By this time, CNN’s camera was trained on the entrance to Aldgate station, near the site of one of the underground explosions, and just around the corner from the offices of my friends at IT Energy.
Checking my AIM buddy list, I could tell at a glance that my London elastictime colleagues were ok – all online and active in AIM. But I didn’t have the screen names of the guys at IT Energy. It was then that I realized that presence (the visual cues indicating whether one is online, busy, idle or offline) allowed me in under a few seconds to assure myself that my elastictime London colleagues were ok and that was only because I had their AOL screen names. No reliance on phone networks or a corporate IM system. Time bought. Without the same details for IT Energy, who happen to use MSN, it would take a call or email to find out their status – time lost. So what if a grand buddy list comprising all my “ecosystem” could be created – without me personally asking for screen names? What if it fetched those automatically, and federated (or rolled into one) presence indicators. This led me to explore other digital breadcrumbs, things we leave behind to help others help us – or to help others get some answers quickly. What else is out there that might answer a few basic questions:
- Who is affected?
- Where are people?
- How can they be contacted quickly?
We considered location and diaries as well as presence. To call it a mashup is far too simplistic. We have to work out how to portray that better – in a way that is useful when adrenalin levels are high.
So the mission is simply this – to help organizations buy time in crises – and in some cases that might mean elastictime will help save lives.