The Digital Back-Channel
In 1883, a volcanic eruption produced a devastating tsunami that killed tens of thousands. As Simon Winchester details in his fine book, Krakatoa, the new technology of the telegraph allowed people around the world to learn of the disaster immediately, magnifying its historical significance.
Fast-forward 121 years. The recent Asian tsunami, also caused by seismic event near Indonesia, highlighted a similar revolution: The ability not only to receive information, but to respond in real time. In the two weeks following the disaster, nearly 200,000 customers of Amazon.com (AMZN) contributed $15 million to the American Red Cross relief fund through a link on the site's home page. Other leading Web sites had similar efforts. That couldn't have happened just a few years ago.