Mooninites meet Flight 93: Hierarchical vs. Distributed Information by mattsteinglass
February 2, 2007, 12:37 am
Filed under: Cartoons, United States

So Peter Berdovsky didn’t actually come up with the viral marketing idea, he was just a schmoe who got hired to put the things up. Via Brainiac, featuring the great Josh Glenn.

On another point Josh makes: should the guerrilla marketers have known this would cause panic, or are the cops guilty of cluelessness? “On the one hand, Boston police and city officials demonstrated how ignorant they are about pop culture, guerrilla marketing, and technology…On the other hand, if you watch the video of the marketing crew installing the Mooninite devices…it does feel kinda like you’re watching a terrorist plot.”

This recalls the central, structuring tension in the great Paul Greengrass film, “United 93”: hierarchical, top-down information systems versus distributed, peer-to-peer ones.

The passengers on the plane get a clear picture of what is happening in New York, Washington, and on their plane long ahead of the FAA and Edwards Air Force Base. The passengers are using in-flight phones and mobiles, talking to loved ones who are getting information off of CNN – i.e. distributed communications, and information aggregators.

passenger in “United 93″

The flight controllers are using raw data gathering equipment (radar, transponders) and going through extremely hierarchical channels of communication, with many formal protocols about who can be contacted with what information.

military flight controller in “United 93″

In one of the movie’s most powerful scenes, the military flight controllers are still desperately trying to figure out what has happened to one missing airliner when they get the news on CNN that a plane has just hit the Pentagon.

So what I’m wondering is : might the misreading of law enforcement authorities in Boston of a viral marketing campaign as a terrorist threat be related to having stayed too much inside their hierarchical communication channels? Aren’t there any image-based search engines they could have quickly gone to for a match on the Mooninite? If they had just been sending images around on cell phones to friends, asking “What is this? Can you ask your friends immediately?”, wouldn’t it have been maybe 3 degrees of connection before someone recognized the character, so they could contact Cartoon Network? Aren’t there some lessons here in how to use distributed, viral information gathering to fight (or just identify) distributed, viral networks (viz. marketers, terrorists)?


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