Tsunami Early Warnings, Flamers and the WebLogs.com shutdown

Phil Bowermaster notes

If CNN and the BBC had immediately begun broadcasting a warning that all coastal areas within the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea were in danger of imminent tidal waves, hundreds or even thousands of lives may have been saved. It’s true that there are millions of poor in Indonesia and Bangladesh who live in remote areas and probably don’t have access even to BBC radio, much less CNN. But local broadcasters would have quickly picked up the news, as would law enforcement and other agencies. Word of mouth could have accomplished quite a bit.

Memetics is still a new field; we have a lot to learn about how ideas are propagated and how they spread. But can anybody doubt that an unambiguous warning of danger would have spread much more quickly and would have reached many more people (especially if repeated continuously throughout the two hours) than a note to the effect that hmmm, there might be danger? It’s all about urgency.

Last June, David Winer decided to shut down WebLogs.com without warning affecting thousands of bloggers. Today Dave excuses this behavior by saying:

We reviewed the options that people suggested at the time, 1. Send an email, or 2. Post something on Scripting News. Neither would have worked, the mail addresses were four years old and probably didn’t work, most of the sites never got past the Hello World stage (so the authors might not remember creating the site, and certainly don’t care), and most people with free sites weren’t and probably still aren’t Scripting News readers, any more than most Blogger users were Evhead readers.

What Dave appears to have missed is that if he had posted it on Scripting News, the information would have spread rapidly accross the entire blogosphere and most of the affected people would probably have gotten notified. When Dave says “Posting something on Scripting News wouldn’t have notified the users, but it sure would have notified the flamers,” he is missing the point. Posing something on Scripting News would have provoked response from lots of people especially including flamers. These people would then post commentary on their own blogs the net result would be wide distribution of the information to all concerned.

I would even suggest that the flamers provide a valuable ecological function of aggresively propagating the warning to all concerned. If Dave had posted a warning, Dave would have perhaps been flamed for shutting down a free service he was offering, but lots of other people would respond by thanking Dave and asking for advise on handling the shutdown. Instead Dave was quite rightly flames for not even attempting to minimize the damage the shutdown caused and were providing a warning that Dave might not be reliable rather than the WebLogs service.


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