Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Amber Alerts using the Social Web . . . at least somewhat

It's been my experience that government and quasi-government agencies are always the last ones to figure out the technology that helps them accomplish their mission. For the most part, my impression has not changed, though more and more I am seeing a glimmer of hope.

There are police officers , emergency management personnel, homeland security employees, and firefighters on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and several of the other social networks, and more and more poised to enter The Relationship Economy.

From my time in the criminal justice field (and discipline), I have developed an outside the walls network of thousands of these folks (they are "connected" to me in the address book on my computer, and frequently post on my old-school wall known as an inbox while CCing others). I have seen a select few (and growing) number of folks over the past 15 or so years adopt (and adapt to) the various iterations (is that spelled right?) of communications technology and I am often impressed by their progress. In fact, the friend I mentioned in 4score and . . . how would Lincoln do on Twitter?, where I observed that the combination of my time working for the government and my legal training and my current focus on education was not a good breeding ground for brevity, works in this very field.

In the recent past, though, I have seen a more useful (my opinion) adaptation and implementation, and have noted police and fire departments using Twitter, the microblogging service that feels a lot like a mashup of instant messaging, chat rooms, and 2-way radios. I first noted that three police departments were on Facebook (update: there are now five) and two (there's now a third, but no posts yet, though they have 5 followers) are on Twitter. I made some suggestions in our recent book that police departments could find innovative ways to communicate with the communities, and I have been impressed with those who are (and I am waiting patiently for the tens of thousands who are not). I delved a little deeper into a hypothetical scenario in the post on Social Network Commerce.

I have noted also that a fire department is Twittering (update: Now there's a second). The @LAFD has a very active presence in the Twitterverse, and they add followers by the day (you can follow them, too) though they are only following one. And I just realized that there are nine (yes, 9) Fire Departments on Facebook -- wow!

And today (Wednesday, April 30, 2008), while Twittering with Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), I learned from @wscottw3 (yeah, the Comcast guy) that Amber Alerts are on Twitter, too - see @amberalerts. I knew that Jason, with Herban Media has had an Amber Alert application on Facebook for a while, and our local (Nashville) media does a decent job of putting the alerts out, but Twitter seems to be the perfect place for them (especially since they just received another infusion of funding).

I don't know that the @amberalerts on Twitter are from an official site, but the program is a Department of Justice Initiative, and before now, I had only seen the Transportation Safety Administration getting involved (other than covertly) in the social web. The only problem with this demonstration is that @amberalerts hasn't seen a Twitterpost since three months ago. I suspect that's not reflective of the most recent Amber Alert . . . but it's the thought that counts, right? I did find that the @Amber_Alert Twitter Feed is directly from the national website DM, so make sure you follow the right one!

What do you think?

BTW - I promise to make my next post on something unrelated to Twitter . . ..


Scott said...

One of the powerful things about Twitter's relatively open source is the ability to import RSS feeds easily into your timeline. Two ways to do it that I've tried are twitterfeed (a hosted application) and twitterbot (a stand alone perl script). Both allow you to define your RSS feed and input your twitter credentials. Both check for feed updates every half hour or so and if there's something new, it pops it in the timeline. check out @WAWS and @WKNR on twitter to see two of em that I set up as an experiment. The downsides: It's not instantaneous. You have to wait at most 30 minutes before a new RSS item will appear. In the case of twitterbot, you have to run it on a machine that can deal with perl and every time the app restarts, as in a reboot situation, it doesn't remember where you left off in the feed and grabs the most recent three items and reposts them.

These are all issues that come up with version 1.0 applications and someone will figure out how to overcome them eventually.

What I love is how people are, on their own, hacking RSS for new platforms like this. For example, the CNN Breaking News account @cnnbrk is NOT created by CNN. It was created by someone like you or me who wanted their breaking news stories instantly on twitter. In fact, over at my personal labor of love,, the whole front page is a bunch of RSS feeds that render based on some ASP code.I use an app called RSS Feed Creator to build em. That way, if the site crashes, or I want to do a quick re-design, the foundation content is always the same.

But with RSS, content isn't tied to one platform. I've been trying to get Carter to pop for a Chumby ( It's a wifi internet appliance with a four inch screen, stereo speakers and a linux operating system that is totally open source. You'll find RSS reader widgets for Chumby.. Who knows, perhaps someone will write one to display Carter's blog posts over there!

Questions or want to learn more? Come on over to and hit the contact link. We'll talk!

carterfsmith said...

ReadWriteWeb reports: A study that will appear in tomorrow's New Scientist magazine found that social media sites, blogs, and instant messaging services were better at connecting people and providing warnings during emergencies than traditional sources of such information, according to the Telegraph.

carterfsmith said...

and the BBC reports that the Manchester (England) police have a useful and used Facebook application

They are on YouTube, as well -