Web 2.0 Usage Saves Money, Increases Efficiency

April 23, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

CHICAGO - Michael Byrne, former member of the New York City Fire Department, started out the discussion about how technology can save money with a bold statement: "Web 2.0 is biggest shift in how we communicate since the introduction of the telegraph." At an afternoon break-out session at the National Conference on Emergency Communications, he backed up this statement by explaining that social networking capabilities have replaced traditional one-way communications with dialogue. "It's a dialogue that's taking place that makes it faster to get input from the constituents then ever before," he stated.

Speed is not the only benefit of Web 2.0 technologies. Byrne pointed out that most services are free. "Twitter hasn't figured out how to make money yet, but it's not costing the user anything, nor are any of the social media sites," he stated.

Web 2.0 capabilities also are more pervasive today than they were even a year ago. This represents a dramatic shift, he stated. For example, Earth has an estimated population of 6 billion, and the latest estimate is that, as of last year, 3.75 billion people own a cell phone, and many of the devices are used for more than voice communications. "That's an accessibility shift that is breaking the boundaries," Byrne stated.

Like many social networking advocates, Byrne is an aficionado of "The Wisdom of Crowds," a book written by James Surowiecki that proposes that better solutions result from many people participating in a discussion. One example of this was the aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Students immediately accessed Facebook to let their families know that they were all right. Public safety officials were able to access this data to help determine the number of injured and killed. And, most importantly, when inaccurate information was posted, it was corrected by another Facebook participant quickly. "This is an example of self-generated and self-correcting information," he stated.

Byrne shared another fascinating fact about social networking Web sites: more usage is occurring in older generations. Last year, the fastest growing group was the 35- to 50-year-olds; the second largest growing group was age 50 and above.

Unfortunately, the bad news about social networking capabilities is that adversaries use it too. For example, in the Mumbai attacks, terrorists used Web 2.0 technologies like Google Earth and Twitter to plan and execute the attack.

Despite the chance of malfeasance and errors, Byrne is a staunch advocate for Web 2.0 use by public safety personnel. "Let's not let perfect be the enemy of good here. If we open up ourselves to these technologies, we'll make better decisions," he stated.

John Sendejar, external relations manager, Corpus Christi Digital Community Development Corporation, explained how his city is ensuring that Web 2.0 technologies can be used throughout the city. The City Wireless Network Project is the second largest wireless meshed network worldwide.

Discussions to bring Wi-Fi to the entire city began with a proof of concept in 2004, and by August 2006 the first automated utility meter-reading program was implemented. Sendejar explained that most cities will discover that utility services are the most likely candidates for initial usage of meshed networks because the capability enhances business.

Corpus Christi currently has 1248 Tropos 5210 canopy radios disbursed throughout the city, and several city facilities are hot spots

Although the citywide network started as in the utility sector, Sendejar predicted that there will be many other uses for the infrastructure, including public safety, restaurant inspections, fire inspections, animal control and building inspectionss. In addition, the mesh network enables law enforcement personnel to conduct covert surveillance when warranted, he pointed out.

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