Twenty-four hours before the first of two bombs exploded on Boston’s Boylston Street on April 15, I was walking that very street, impressed with the organized way the city was preparing for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
As I walked, I was often passed by thinly clad runners doing last-minute preps for the next day’s big road race. More than 21,000 runners take part in this mother of all marathons, and it is a sight to behold.
A world of difference
What a difference a week made. Instead of great memories of individual races well-run, we had memories of chaos for what happened at the finish line, and the sorrow that comes from grieving three lives lost at more than 170 wounded; many severely.
As Monday morphed into Tuesday and beyond, my attention shifted not only to the hunt to find the bombers, but to the roles that communication technology and the social media played in those manhunts.
It began occurring to me last Monday night that this was probably the most photographed crime in history, and that the chances of the culprits being identified early were much greater than the chances they would not be identified at all.
You’re on Candid Camera
Boston is one of America’s many cities that relies a lot on street and store surveillance cameras to record anything that might later prove to need recording.
Ironically, The Boston Globe reported on the rise in the use of street cameras back in August of 2007. Reporter Charlie Savage wrote:
“The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a ‘surveillance society’ … Since 2003, the department has handed out some $23 billion in federal grants to local governments for equipment and training to help combat terrorism. ”
Privacy not a concern here
While many of us, at times, worry about the threat these surveillance cameras pose to our individual privacy, this was not one of those weeks in Boston. We wanted police and FBI to see as many people as possible and, in reviewing those images, to find the guys that did this crime.
Of course, that is exactly what happened.
But it wasn’t just the street cameras, or even the camera from Lord & Taylor on Boylston Street, that did the job. These cameras were joined by the hundreds of cell phone cameras from everyday citizens who had gathered — they thought — to watch the remainder of the marathoners cross the finish line.
When those camera images were added to the surveillance camera results, the world saw who the two brothers were who ignited these bombs. Call if citizen journalism at its best.
Interviewed later, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, “The use of cameras was invaluable; both surveillance and smart phone cameras.”
Social media exposure
But the images still needed to be circulated to all of us. Television was the first to do that, but many young people don’t watch TV these days. So it was the images uploaded to the social media of Facebook and Twitter that helped complete the job and let everyone see the faces of terror in Boston.
It is no secret that young people get their news from places like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the home pages of AOL and Yahoo. So getting the images out on the Web in sites like these helped in many ways to get maximum interaction from people who knew either of the two brothers, or perhaps both.
Not only did people start calling in tips to police, but some netziens became amateur sleuths in circulating, deciphering, and analyzing photos and factoids to piece together theories of the crime and where the suspects might be hiding.
Users become sleuths
One site in which Web users became investgators was Reddit.com. One sub-group that was formed almost immediately was classified under “Find the Bomber” On this home page, more than 60,000 users discussed different photos of the crime scene and exchanged ideas about where the suspects might be.
This is a classic example of what I wrote about several weeks ago in this blog when discussing crowd sourcing. Although, in this case, the crowd was not so much used as story sources, but as potential sources of information that might be helpful to police.
One expert noted this week, “Everyone became a soldier armed with information.”
And former Boston and New York Police Commissioner simply stated it this way, in an interview Saturday night with CBS’ 48 Hours:
“Every step of the way, technology played a part in bringing these two men to justice. Every step of the way.”
I remember when a million dollars was a lot of money.
So much so that CBS rose to the top of the ratings on the nights it aired the hit series, “The Millionaire,” from 1955-1960. This was a show where a guy named Michael Anthony would travel the globe bestowing the golden sum on anyone his boss, John Beresford Tipton, deemed worthy of it.
If a network were to resurrect that series today, however, they would have to call it, “The Multimillionaire,” since that million would be worth just over $10 million in 2012 dollars.
Money and media
But you may be wondering, since this blog is about the digital media, what does money have to do with the price of pixels?
A lot, as it turns out. And for starters, $10 million is a vastly outdated sum of cash in the game of buying and selling social media sites.
Billion Dollar Baby
I’m talking about the $1 billion (yes, with a “b”) that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just paid this week for another social network – Instagram – that wasn’t even around two years ago.
Instagram was launched way, way back in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as a free photo-sharing application. To access it, all users have to do is shoot a digital picture, add on a filter, and then share it on several social networking sites include the Instagram site. The photos appear in squares, harkening back to earlier-day Kodak Instamatic cameras.
According to an article today in the online site, TechCrunch, Instagram was starting to be too much of a rival for Facebook to ignore.
“At 27 million registered users on iOS alone, Instagram was increasingly positioning itself as a social network in its own right — not just a photo-sharing app,” writes Josh Costine and Kim-Mai Cutler.
“And it was clear that some users were doing more of the daily sharing actvities on Instagram rather than Facebook’s all-in-one mobile apps, which had to be cluttered with nearly every feature of the desktop site.”
Instagram has just launched an app for Android phones and was on track to pick up as many as 50 million new users. According to TechCrunch, it had already picked up one million in the first week of the Android launch.
Under the terms of the deal, Instagram will remain a stand-alone app under its own name, but there will be increased ties and crossover possibilities with Facebook for users of both networks.
Here’s the kicker
But it was the writers’ next observation that shows – let’s see, how shall I put this – that smoke and mirrors only have value in the world of interactive digital media.
“Whatever you think of the price given the fact that Instagram had no revenues, the reality is it was going to be worth whatever Mark Zuckerberg felt like paying for it,” the TechCrunch writers say.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about a two-year-old company that – as Costine and Cutler say – has no revenues. Like other social media sites, the value of Instagram lies in the fact it draws such a huge critical mass of eyeballs to its site.
Visions of sugar plums
As we’ve seen with other sites – most notably the Facebook phenomenon – that is a scenario that makes advertisers salivate as they contemplate the exposure for their client companies.
As for Zuckerberg himself, here is his take on what the acquisition means:
“For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.”
And if you’re still trying to wrap your mind around how much a billion dollars is, it is $344 million more than last month’s Mega Million jackpot of $656 million, which was the largest payout in lottery history.
And, once again, this billion dollars went for a company that made how much money?