For more than a century, the Boston Marathon has been an enduring symbol of triumphant joy for millions of runners, family members and spectators from around the world. However, the marathon took on new symbolism for all of us here in Boston yesterday, bringing with it a new challenge to overcome heartbreak despite the incomprehensible nature of such an attack.
Many of us at SmartBear were personally impacted by this tragedy, and our hearts go out to our fellow Bostonians, especially those who lost loved ones or suffered life-changing injuries on Boylston Street yesterday.
In times like these, it is the heroic acts of individuals and organizations who give everything to help that lift our spirits most. Police, first responders, aid workers, bystander and even runners who’d only just completed a marathon—so many people risked their own lives to help those in need on the ground. What's more, there were countless others who rallied to aid Boston from afar.
Today, we wanted to recognize and thank the members of the online community that have also contributed to relief efforts, and - in turn - are doing what they can to help another great community recover from a senseless tragedy.
I’m OK! The first thing we all wanted to know yesterday was that our loved ones were safe and sound. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get through as phone networks were overwhelmed with everyone trying to find out at the same time. This simple phone app allowed those stuck in Boston yesterday to send a single “I’m OK” text message to their families and friends, freeing up networks for the emergency responders.
Soon after the explosions, Google set up a Boston Marathon Person Finder page, which is currently tracking about 5,300 records. The Web application allows individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends involved or potentially involved in a disaster. Anyone can contribute to the data, including press agencies and non-profits. Participants receive updates using the Person Finder API based on the PFIF open standard.
Of course, popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus were huge in grassroots communication efforts across the globe, highlighting the near instantaneous spread of information during such a shocking event. Seconds after the explosion, people everywhere were made aware of the dramatic turn of events at the Boston Marathon, were informed about emergency efforts that were under way, and made aware of other resources that were available. These platforms also provide a place where people can express their sympathy and grief.
Probably the most dense collection of resources for the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit has updated this live thread four times so far. Including links to crisis counseling hotlines, a Google doc for runners in need of a place to stay, press releases, airline gift tickets and current news stories, this website is providing much needed service information to masses of people.
I’m sure this is only a small handful of all the websites and applications that are contributing to relief and investigation efforts following the bombings yesterday. As mission-centric software developers ourselves, we are always inspired by projects like these, and today we are especially grateful.
I’m planning to make this blog topic into series highlighting Web applications that are changing the world for the better. Please share any you are working on or any you know about in the comment section!