theEweekly Wrap: Riots, rivalry and the revamped 9-1-1

BBM faces blame... Those who organised this week's riots through BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) may soon be held to account, as manufacturer RIM has vowed to co-operate with police to identify culprits. In response, a group calling itself Team Poison hacked the RIM blog on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Brandwatch research revealed that mentions of BlackBerry on Twitter increased by five times at the peak of the disorder, but 24 per cent of those mentions were negative. Several people have already been arrested or jailed for organising the violence and looting through BBM, or 'inciting' it on Facebook and Twitter.

The role of social media in disturbances such as the Manchester riots has been cause for contention, with David Cameron suggesting those responsible should be banned from such sites. Earlier this week there were calls for BBM and Twitter to be blocked, but yesterday the government clarified it was discussing blocking individual users rather than the entire service. Meanwhile, eBay has confirmed it will "cooperate fully with the investigating authorities to identify and remove any listings which are linked to criminal activity."

...and a new rival BBM could soon have a direct competitor in the form of Facebook Messenger. The standalone app is touted as an alternative to text messaging, as friends can be reached directly and instantly. Furthermore, there is a group conversations feature that incorporates a geotagging function; needless to say, this would be very useful for anyone planning a riot in future.

TheNextWeb said the app would "look very familiar if you’ve used Beluga, the group messaging application that Facebook acquired in March of this year." However, the site also speculated that the recent introduction of Facebook video calling through Skype could point to Messenger featuring video calling integration in the future. The app is currently available for download in the US for Android or iOS. However, it could face more rivalry from Apple, as the company is set to launch iOS 5 with an incorporated messaging service in a month's time.

9-1-1 for 2011 Across the pond, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has outlined plans for an update to the 9-1-1 service. Hailed as Next Generation 9-1-1, anyone who needs the emergency services will soon be able to transmit their request using text messaging, geotagging, photo or video, in addition to voice calling. The benefits of the plan include:
  • "Increased public access [...] e.g., to persons with disabilities."
  • Allowing emergency services to assess the situation more effectively based on more detailed initial information.
  • Improved reliability.

The five-point plan is set to be implemented as soon as next month, but will take around 10 years to complete. It was thought up by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech campus shootings. Hostage style situations are a perfect example of why this is a good idea, but Gizmodo commented, "the potential for abuse seems almost too great", citing pranks and lewd images as potential pitfalls.