9/11 Online: Trends and Tools, Then Versus Now

Jennifer Darrouzet at Connection Cafe wrote a thought-provoking post after she visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. She imagined how that week might have been different with all the social communication tools we have today. For example, we might have checked Facebook and Twitter obsessively to makes sure loved ones were accounted for.

Nine years ago, Jennifer was visiting Los Angeles. With flights grounded indefinitely, she hopped in a car to get back home to Texas. She recounts how she stayed in touch with her family:

I still hadn’t been able to talk to my husband, but my mother-in-law had gotten word to him that we were headed East on I-10, and he was able to track my progress via our online, real-time credit card statement. Now we are friends on Google Maps, and I can see his dot throughout his evening commute.

This concrete re-visiting of those intense days really got me.

It also made me think of a tool I did have access to then: online search. I was managing editor of search at AOL at the time. Our trend data wasn’t visible to the public, as so much search data is now. But as insiders at America’s number one Internet service, we had a direct view into the American mind that day.

We saw from our daily data that the top search terms — practically chiseled in stone under normal conditions — had completely changed. We hadn’t even thought that was possible. I asked our developer, Kevin Lawver, to try slicing the data by hour so we could get more insight.

The trends we were able to extract was fascinating, a pre-Twit