One thing the last few weeks have proven to us is that its time for Internet companies like Twitter, Facebook and the news media to build bandwidth and monetize. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011, and Tunisia and Egypt, and Libya’s Revolution 2.0, prove to us that the world has become dependent upon social networks for so many functions that the owners of those networks need to be thinking of their products in an entirely different way.
In the days after the 8.9 earthquake off Sendai, Japan, the Internet itself was severely compromised by the disaster. Nothing worked for hours around the world! Google made a brilliant move by setting up a web site to help people find missing loved ones, but in so doing brought their global empire to its knees. So much bandwidth capacity was being consumed by the desperate Japanese that it was impossible to bring up the basic Gmail web site to logon and check mail, at least where I live in the Washington, DC region.
Twitter has been creaking for months, but was crushed by the disaster. I can imagine that the company has been adding capacity as quickly as they could, given the fast pace of growth of the company, but the consequences of the Japanese tsunami proved these efforts need to be redoubled and redoubled again. That takes money, so I am calling for Twitter to find a way to monetize their business, so that they will have enough funds to keep up.
Other major sites, which have been unable to keep up with the pressure, are YouTube, Amazon, and CNN, to name just three major ones. Facebook did a remarkably good job of keeping up in the crisis, but even it was routing messages slowly in the height of the crush. I was in a Facebook conversation, and had the experience of writing messages on Facebook, while receiving the replies on my cell phone long before they were appearing on my Facebook page.
I am sure that President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have taken note of what is happening online. This is a non-trivial issue. This is quite obviously a matter of national security at the highest levels of government. It has been impossible to get news out of Libya during the crisis in Japan. This does not bode well for a time when we Americans face a major crisis of our own.
One of our friends was surprised to learn from CNN that the San Andreas Fault is expected to experience an earthquake of similar intensity sometime within the next 30 years. Based on the way the Pacific Rim has been rocking and rolling lately, this event could take place sooner rather than later.
If we are all dependent upon a severe shortage of bandwidth and under capacity social networks as our primary means of communication in a major disaster, the results will not be pretty. A friend once told me that 25% of the Internet is centralized within one mile of a certain point in San Francisco, California. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to believe that a major California earthquake could cause disruptions around the world.
It’s time to make this topic a matter of national concern. I urge CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and all networks on radio and television to begin asking Internet executives about their disaster preparedness and capacity building plans forthwith. It is plain that what we have today is totally inadequate.
Skip Conover also publishes his work at Archetype in Action Organization.