Michelle Sullivan Communications

Mumbai to Montreal … and back to Mumbai

Taj hotel, Mumbai, the day before the terrorist attacks

I left a beautiful city in the early morning hours of November 26th, Mumbai time, and landed in Montreal to learn of its devastation. My last evening in Mumbai, at the end of a month-long trip through India, included my usual stop at the Taj hotel and drinks at the Leopold Café. As we walked together late that evening through the streets which are now riddled with bullets, I remarked to my travelling companion that it was impossible to feel nervous in Mumbai. The nights are too humid, the streets too clean and the atmosphere too relaxed. I imagined returning to the city in a few years with my now two year old nephew and mused that Leopold’s, established in 1871, would surely still be standing. Ironic thoughts, given the current climate.

While I’ve followed the developments in Mumbai on television (mainly through CNN) and online, my most compelling source of information has been Twitter, which has provided me with leads to investigate and links to blogs to read and Flickr photos to peruse. Through Twitter, I’ve read individual stories and learned of tragedies, including the deaths of two waiters at Leopold’s. Twitter provided me with a link to the list of the dead, names which mean nothing to me, behind which are faces I may have crossed a little over a day ago in the streets of India’s financial capital. Twitter has been used to provide information on where to go to donate blood, and to engage users in political and social discussions which have the potential to mobilize, build bridges or cause further division.

I’m not alone in the realization that Twitter has become a critical source of information about this crisis:

ulceaston: #Mumbai Just got USDOS travel alert email: »defer travel to Mumbai for at least 48-72 hours. » Gee, how timely. Amazing:Twitter’s THE source.

sampad: #mumbai This unfortunate event has led to the rise of social media and true Citizen Journalism. People are collaborating like never before

fourthwall: Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/27/mumbai.twitter/index.html

randyhall: @enobytes People were (are) using # mumbai tags in Twitter to track goings-on with the attacks. Attacks suck, Twitter as news media, COOL.

startonomics: wht a change…i hvent even opened Rediff for current news since ive KNOWN #mumbai in twitter…a small revolution 4 me here..

Imagine Twitter as a channel for all the water cooler conversations that can happen on any given morning. There is fact mixed in with a heavy dose of rumour and misinformation. While Twitter cannot be trusted as a reliable news source, necessarily, it is certainly a powerful communications tool for those who are able to provide first-hand accounts of a situation, as well as for anyone with an opinion on any given subject.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it bears repeating that Twitter comes with search capability, so it’s easy to plug in key words for issues which interest you (ex: Mumbai). The hash tag (#) is often used by multiple users to ensure that their comments are followed by those interested in the topic, so the #mumbai code is prominent in the tweets I’m following. In the last 90 minutes or so, there have been over 1200 tweets which include the word Mumbai. That’s a lot of content to skim through, but I’m doing it because Mumbai is a niche topic that I’m interested in, much in the same way others may be interested in following conversations which mention knitting or american politics.

New Twitter resource for you to check out : Popacular, a virtual warehouse of popular websites mentioned on Twitter.

India was lovely, but memories of my visit are now tinged with sadness, and the sobering reminder that life is short and precious.  It’s good to be back in Montreal, blogging again and uploading photos from my trip to India to my Flickr account.


Update 28/11/2008 14:36: Excellent articles from Michael Arrington of Techcrunch and Mathew Ingram on Twitter as a news source in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.