Geeks have long realized that IRC is a great communications tool and there is a long (and sometimes sensationalized) history of using it as a medium for the spread of information during times of crisis. This week was no exception.
Within minutes of the first plane hitting the WTC on Tuesday, everyone knew what was going on. Within a couple of hours, a dedicated channel (#coverage) had been set up expressly for people to share information.
In #coverage a team of moderators were passing along news bites, supplementary information and URLs from people all over the world. There was an extreme focus on only spreading information which was, as far as could be determined, factual and relevant. There was no rumor-spreading or fearmongering. There was no trolling or distraction from the focus of getting information to people as quickly as possible.
Because I was in #coverage, I had access to news from CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, the BBC, and Reuters and AP wires. I heard information and reaction from Canadian, German, British, Dutch and Australian media as well as organizations like CNN Europe.
People were also doing legwork to help others understand what was going on, sharing URLs to maps of the WTC, diagrams of the pentagon, specifications of the planes which were destroyed, definitions of DEFCON/ThreatCON/FPCON, the text of the NATO Treaty, background info on Ossama bin Laden, the Taleban, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a thousand other things.
Even though I was at work, in a building with no televisions, I was the best-informed person I met on Tuesday.
On Wednesday it was discovered that CNN had a IRC relay of their closed-captioning system, but rather than go and clog up CNN's servers, someone wrote an IRC bot which relayed the info to another dedicated channel on slashnet, where 140+ people watched it using only one connection to CNN. The bot also parsed the captioning into complete sentences and did some correction of capitalization
MAKING IT FAR EASIER
TO READ THAN CNNS OWN
FEED WHICH LOOKED
A newsbot was also set up in #coverage to help the moderators with their task of filtering and disseminating information.
In a nutshell, several hundred people from all over the globe, whose only common factor was that they argued constantly with each other over IRC, came together. They came together to form what was - in my view - the single best news agency on the planet in the early hours of the incident, and they did so with an amazing level of maturity, kindness and alacrity. Everyone to whom I showed what you assembled was impressed and pleased.
Thanks to you all. I think a lot of the people on slashnet are very information-oriented, and I think the flow of high-grade information supplied in this effort helped people to deal with what was going on...I know it helped me.
I am very proud of you and proud to count myself among your number. Again, thank you.
Update [2001-9-14 15:22:46 by Driph]: I too would like to express my thanks to everyone who has manned the channel 24hrs a day nonstop since Tuesday, and to the many contributors without whom there would not have been news to post. You've all done an excellent job.
Of course, news continues to roll in. If you have verified news you'd like to contribute or simply wish to keep abreast of developments, log in to kuro5hin.ircnetwork.net and join the channel #coverage. A complete log of the channel is also available here, updated every 15 minutes.