Delta’s fantastic Frankenstorm social networking

With tickets to New York to fly last Tuesday night, at the first reports of the Frankenstorm (or Hurricane Sandy, for those not on Twitter) I started to question whether I’d get there. By the Sunday afternoon, with flights being cancelled all over the shop, evacuations of huge areas of land and states of emergency declared in several states, getting there looked even less likely.

So I decided to tweet Delta, the airline I was due to fly with, to find out how to proceed if my flight was cancelled. Their account looked fairly active (plenty of companies have Twitter accounts that haven’t been touched for weeks or even months) and I thought it was worth a try. At this point, my flight was still set to depart as scheduled, but I wanted to know their policy on refunds and rescheduling.

So far, so impressive. First thing on the Monday I did as they asked. More flights were being cancelled and the news about the storm wasn’t good, but my flight was still supposed to go ahead.

So I got on with my day, until late afternoon – with the news out of the East Coast getting progressively worse – when I checked my flight. “Cancelled” it read, in glaring letters. I followed the steps showing me how to reschedule online, but inevitably that didn’t work. After a lengthy period on hold, we discovered that having booked through a travel provider, Delta’s UK staff were not prepared to help. But the provider claimed not to know of the cancellation (then closed for the day, with no option for an out-of-hours solution) leaving us in a Catch 22 situation.

So I sent a tweet.

After another 40 minutes on hold, I checked my phone. Delta had replied, and I couldn’t have asked for them to be more efficient. After asking for my confirmation number, they soon responded with an offer of a flight for Thursday, with a stopover in Boston. Not only that, but they offered to extend our flight free of charge a day later than we were originally due to fly back. I asked for them to email a confirmation, and within 15 minutes I had one in my inbox. I checked my reservation online, and voila – my new details were in there.

The fact that I was able to change my flights – during the worst storm to hit the East Coast in a century – is a credit to Delta. But if I’d only tried via the phone line, I’m fairly sure I’d still have been at square one after the storm hit. The fact that I did this via a set of Twitter messages is fantastic. This is exactly why social media is so important for companies. Delta should be congratulated on a job well done.


The Granville Gunman and Twitter

If, as I do, you live on a small and rather insignificant road in suburban north London, it’s not an everyday occurrence to see said location being reported as the scene of a crime. Especially not when the situation involves a stand-off between a gunman and armed police officers.

But today my little tiny road got its five minutes of fame. It started with a tweet from Barnet Police, a tweet that piqued my interest.

Within minutes, Twitter (albeit a limited number of geographically concentrated users – it’s not  a huge road) was abuzz. The police followed up with an explanation: “Police had reports of a man believed to be in possession of firearm. Police are trying to bring this to a peaceful conclusion.”

The Shomrim, the Orthodox Jewish security network, swiftly added this detail: “Armed Police are restricting access. Avoid area if possible”.

And then the rumours went a-swirling, some factual, others totally nonsensical. According to various sources, including local press and interested onlookers, the lone gunman was in his mid-50s and recently unemployed, on the 14th floor of a block of flats. Residents were being evacuated, or refused entry to the road. There were police helicopters, television crews, and this little gem, courtesy of the Times Series newspapers; ““He put a bottle of Jack Daniels, a tin of spinach and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale down and said ‘There’s a little present for ya’.”

A few hours later, there seemed to be no clear resolution. I headed home, wondering whether I’d be allowed back into my flat, visions of various police dramas running through my head.

As it turned out, all was quiet on the Granville front, although the road was awash with policemen and, curiously, a fire engine. A police officer at the other entrance to the road said it was fine to go through. I asked whether there was any update and unsurprisingly, he remained tight-lipped. But minutes later, safe in my building, Barnet MPS tweeted again:

And so ended the drama of the Granville Gunman (as I hashtagged him), though the police will no doubt release more information in due course. A bit of excitement for the residents on a cold January afternoon, but nothing serious.

But the incident offers yet more proof of Twitter’s influence. As a journalist, I’d probably have found out about this sooner rather than later, even had it not been for Barnet police’s tweet. But most members of the population don’t have access to police press departments and many, if not most, don’t follow the local media religiously.

Social media does many things – and certainly, as today’s events demonstrated, it can misinform or spread panic – but as a way of getting information to the public promptly and efficiently, it’s pretty darn effective.

Did the student protesters vote last May?

Been having a discussion on Twitter about the student demonstration in London today (hash tag #demo2010). Having watched footage of the students smash up Millbank buildings, graffiti f*** on the walls and other acts of friendly vandalism, I can understand why public opinion wouldn’t be with students.

I’m fully in support of them – I think the proposals to raise fees by such a degree without a proportional improvement in tuition time and teaching standards are a recipe for disaster, and risk doing serious long-term damage to education in Britain.

 But I also think students like to jump on a bandwagon.

I tweeted: “I wonder if all the students out there for #demo2010 bothered to vote in 2010. With the youth vote as low as it is, bet they didn’t”.

 The numbers don’t lie – the British electoral turnout is poor anyway but voting is lowest among the 18 to 25 demographic. Yes, May 6 was exam season, yes, students are busy, yes, they probably didn’t get round to organising a postal vote, but the fact is, decisions are made by those who show up.

 As Alex Richman pointed, if they had voted, they might still be in the same boat. He tweeted back: “People who voted for the party opposing higher fees got them into power. and then saw them agree to raise fees.”

 Dina Rickman added: “Do you think voting would have helped? Tuition fees would still have gone up.”

 On this particular issue, perhaps not. If the Conservatives had got an outright majority, fees would almost certainly have risen, while if Labour had won, despite their current indignation, who knows what would have happened. But in any protest – the Iraq war comes to mind – I’d hazard that not everyone involved bothered to shuffle down to the ballot box.

 But that’s not the point. Political engagement shouldn’t be limited to Election Day, but it shouldn’t be limited to a Wednesday afternoon riot either.

 Democracy is, philosophically speaking, a contract between representative and represented. If you don’t make the effort to choose who represents you – and I’m sure some of those protesting did – you don’t then have the right to complain when you object to what is done.

Gossip Girl recap: Class Warfare

In a world where social networking is everything, what happens when the portal to it all stops working?

Yes, I’m talking about the unthinkable. If Facebook can crash for a few hours, so too can Gossip Girl. As with Twitter I’m betting there is a fail “headband” for such emergencies.

In what was the first of several bizarrely post modern interludes in the episode, Blair posed the Descartes-esque question: “How is my first day supposed to matter if Gossip Girl is not around to tell people about it?” A question Tweet-happy people like Stephen Fry might well emphathise with.

But no matter. Summer is over, the Parisian adventures a distant memory. School is back in session, with Blair in her rightful home of Columbia.

It seem’s less Serena’s rightful home when her biggest concern about starting university is revealed to be what to wear.

OK, we all think it. But you don’t say it!

Actually, what matters for the first day is entrance to some swanky student club. Blair gets in, but in a distinctly unusual twist of fate, Serena doesn’t. Mainly because Nate’s stalker girl is the gatekeeper and she has some bizarre vendetta against serena, ostensibly because she fancies Nate, but as we learn later due to some strange convict dude. Oh and Penelope, erstwhile Waldorf minion, is also a member.

Stalker girl tries a divide and conquer strategy with B and S, but they out fox her with a live-streamed faux fight complete with Polyester hair and judgemental sniping (as I said, post-modern). Then Lily makes sure she’s in the club, because apparently she’s on the board (is there a single pretentious organisation she’s not involved in the entire New York area?).

Still, good to see nepotism alive and well on the streets of Manhattan.

Back in Brooklyn, the woman most likely to steal Lily’s mother of the year crown has left Dan holding the baby. A baby who, as Rufus explains, is not actually his. And it seems Georgina has been at a spa for the better part of a century. Not ideal.

When said spa turns out to be St Barts, Danessa come up with a stellar plan to live in the loft and practice parenthood based on the guidelines of a very awesome early 90s fatherhood comedy starring Tom Selleck. Sadly for their domestic bliss, Georgie returns with a sob story and takes Milo with her. Bye bye, baby Humphrey. But hello, new and inevitably troublesome living arrangements.

Chuck, meanwhile, is a changed man. So besotted with European blonde is he that he discards his prized Little Black Book with the comment: “If a good woman can change me.” Bleugh.

Imposter-Chuck waxes lyrical about how she nursed him back to health (apparently we’re actually in the Manhattan of 1810) so Lily does what every loving stepmother would do and invites the pair to a fashion show avec the family.
Except, the family in question comprises of Rufus, Eric and the absent-but-not-missed Little J.

As in, the girl he nearly raped in season one, and successfully deflowered in season three (as Eric helpfully reminds Rufus during a touching bow-tie fixing scene). So, obviously, Rufus is just thrilled to have Chuck back.

Cue drama, but French girl doesn’t mind. Unsurprising, given that Chuck goes all Richard Gere on her and takes her on one hell of a shopping splurge – provoking possibly the best snobby socialite monologue Blair has yet delivered.

Luckily by then Gossip Girl was back up and running to tell the world about it.

Conference season via Twitter

I’m not at the Labour party conference, although at the risk of exposing just how much of a politics nerd I am, I really wish I were.

But even though, physically, I am in London not Manchester, I’ve still felt far more engaged with the proceedings this year than in the past. And it’s not because of the Miliband-drama – although that hasn’t hurt – because the same was true during the Lib Dem get together last week.

Why? Simple, really. With the help of Twitter, I’ve enjoyed a step-by-step guide to the conferences.

Whether it has been snippets from speeches, snarky observations about what people are wearing or overexcited MP sightings, the hash tag #Lab10 has kept me more than up to date.

I’ve felt the excitement as the new leader arrived on stage for his speech, read otherwise unreported comments from fringe meetings, and laughed at various off-the-wall offerings. It may not be first hand exactly, but it’s not bad.

Live blogs are great, video footage brings a speech into your TV room. But with Twitter it feels like you are part of it, involved in the discussion and debate.

I’d love to be there in person one year. Still, this serves as another reminder that social networking is far from being a useless and self-indulgent tool. Because democracy is about participation, and Twitter provides a pretty good way of getting involved.

Gossip boy Josh Schwartz joins Twitter

Now, the teen TV drama Gossip Girl has always been at the forefront of social and technological innovation, as is explained here.

But TV just got that bit more interactive as Josh Schwartz – the man who brought us not only Blair and Serena but also Seth and Summer (RIP) – joined Twitter.

Yes, The OC creator has entered the debate, meaning that watching your favourite TV show can be a truly interactive experience. Don’t like what happened. Tell Josh via Twitter, as a certain gossip columnist has been doing.

It also means fiction and reality can collide in peculiar ways. Blair Waldorf, meet your maker.

The tragic end of reindeer mail

This may just be the saddest story I’ve read all year.

Writes James Bone in The Times:

“Children who write letters to Father Christmas this year will no longer receive an answer from the North Pole — in case the jolly old man turns out to be a paedophile.”

Apparently there was a scare at the North Pole last year, when a sex-offender somehow wangled his way into the US Postal Service’s Santa Claus letter reply writing operation.

So now, although the perve didn’t actually do any damage (he was stopped before he got round to writing back and offering any personal visits!), kids won’t get their ‘Dear Father Christmas ‘ letters answered. Lots of anger about this – you can join the ‘Keep Santa Letters’ Facebook group here.
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