I recently read quite a few interesting articles about Twitter. The most intriguing (and exciting) was about the first tweet from outer space.  At the moment, the concept of an intergalactic World Wide Web resides in the minds of few earthlings ;-), but there are however, already hypothetical plans for web servers to be hosted on Mars and on the Moon! Last week, Twitter’s effects on crowdsourcing was addressed by Alec Ross and Jared Cohen in a chat moderated by Google’s Eric Schmidt, where social networks in general were discussed. But, what really caught my eye was an article which reported the live coverage of an accident which was averted in flight. Apparently, a man attempted to open the plane’s exit door, but was promptly stopped by other passengers. Among those on board was the General Services Administration’s CIO, who sent out three tweets as the action took place, and in less than 300 characters, created a sensational news story.

E-mails, text messages, and social networks are some of the most innovative communication instruments today. The advantage of the text message is that it is simple and accessible to everyone (in fact, tens of millions of messages are sent everyday). These messages could certainly become functional and immediate channels for public involvement in safety issues. Citizens could use these systems, on a 24 hour basis, to give notice about events and situations as they happen, so that the public could be better served and numerous criminal acts could possibly be avoided.

The potential risk, however, is that these messages will go unacknowledged, or even worse, that they will be taken into consideration when it’s too late. For this reason, once citizens are offered the opportunity to participate directly, it is essential that law enforcement be ready and prepared to listen to them. The complication is that enormous quantities of information need to managed efficiently. Semantic technology can be used resolve this problem; it is able support the activities of data collection and analysis and can quickly sort through messages, thanks to its ability to “understand” text. In this situation, it could easily be applied to a system which allows citizens to use social networks, e-mails or mobile services to report crimes or alert officials of neighborhood situations, such as: broken streetlights, potholes, vandalism, etc.
Instant blogging has forever changed the life of new generations, but can it also revolutionize public safety? I believe it will, and I believe that the real enabler behind this revolution will be semantic technology.


Author: Luca Scagliarini

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