In the teeth of a not-so-perfect storm savaging the East Coast, the freer the flow of digital news, the better. So concludes the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Both papers have temporarily taken down their paywalls so that anyone with an internet connection -- not just subscribers with a password -- can use their sites. The Times told Poynter Online the plan is to "keep it that way until the weather emergency is over." When the power goes out, computers and internet go out, but many people can still browse news sites with their smart phones, at least until the battery goes.
Speaking of browsing, we've been watching the social media surge of storm-related posts, just as others are watching the actual storm. Twitter and Facebook have become go-to sources for fast-moving events, and we were curious about volume.
Here’s what Facebook told us: Use of the word "hurricane" has jumped 21,000 percent in news feeds across the site. And the Talk Meter, a kind of Richter Scale of Facebook data that specialists use to gauge discussion around certain topics, has reached 7.1 -- that's compared to a 6.7 for the Giants' world series win. President Obama is currently holding a 3.8 on the meter, and Romney a 3.5.
We want to know how you're getting the news of the storm -- the weather channel, your Twitter feed, or the view from your front porch. Visit our Facebook page and post your answer at Marketplace Tech Report.
The stock market has a reputation almost as good as the mailman when it comes to rain, snow and sleet, but it was effectively shut down yesterday and again today on concerns about the storm. What about those fancy computers that trade electronically day and night? The ones that make buy and sell orders without us? They also powered down. Turns out, we still need humans to run them, and humans are scarce a giant storm.
"This risk was less from anything that might go wrong with the electronic system, but more with whatever little human intervention was needed -- that made people come into the office," says Chetan Sharma, a technical consulting strategist and telecommunications expert who has worked with many Fortune 100 companies. Sharma says we're almost to the stage where we could just switch on these trading computers and stay home with our flashlights, but automated trading systems are still in beta.
"Even though the system has been tested -- frequently tested -- it has never been done live and so there are obviously some risks...if there were some problems, will there be enough people to address them right away," says Sharma.
You might think that's a moot point in a storm that's likely to cause power outages and flood lower manhattan. But Sharma says the market has backups for situations like this: "Generators are in place in case power knocks out the main data center for New York Stock Exchange. I don't think the power would have been an issue, and the data center is inland so I don't think flooding would have been that big of an issue."
Backups or not, you still need a system override. Remember in August, when that high-frequency trading computer in Jersey City went haywire thanks to a glitch in its algorithm, and cost the Knight Capital Group $440 million? Well, people in the financial sector do, and they're conscious of the fact that in a hurricane, you might need somebody to you know, pull the plug.