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David Weinberger Headshot

Volcano 1, Internet 0.01

Posted: Updated:

In a time of international crisis, the Internet failed almost utterly. At least in my limited experience.

Here are the things that I could not do over the Internet when the Barcelona Airport closed, stranding us:

  • We could not find information about the closing posted on the Web when we needed it at the airport.

  • Email notifications from American Airlines about the flight delay and then cancellation came about an hour after the news was spread in the airport.

  • It was not possible trebook a flight using the American Airlines web site. That required a two-hour phone call to AA.

  • The Spanish train service's site would not take orders for tickets. It contained no information about how to proceed, or about the multi-hour wait-times at the Barcelona station where tickets are sold.

  • There was no updated information about ticket availability for various trains.

  • There was no central place to check on hotel room availability at the various cities affected.

  • There was no obvious way to get information about the availability of rental cars, buses, cabs, or people willing to drive you to Madrid in their own car.

Only three online services actually helped: Twitter (see the #ashtag hashtag), Skype, and good old email.

This was not the Internet's fault. It was moving bits faster than Icelandic volcanoes move ash. But the services built on the Net were tested by a non-lethal international crisis and crapped out. Oh, I'm sure there are cool and useful sites 'n' services, but I'm a fairly experienced Net user and I didn't find them, and what I did find seems not to have been built to work during times of crisis.

Makes you wonder about the implications for national security...

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