Volcano-Stranded Travelers Turn to Social Media

The Icelandic volcano eruption that stranded hundreds of thousands of travellers in Europe and elsewhere on Friday showed no signs of letting up on the weekend, continuing to belch a plume of ash that covered much of the European continent. Airlines — which by Friday evening had already canceled more flights than at any time since the attacks of September 11 in New York — were still refusing to take bookings for new flights into next week, stranding passengers for days without connecting flights. Some took matters into their own hands: comedian and actor John Cleese, for example, hired a taxi to take him from Norway to Belgium, at a cost of almost $7,000.
Others turned to Twitter and Facebook to try and find rooms for the night, or alternate travel plans involving boats, trains and other forms of transportation. In addition to the hashtag that had quickly come to be used after the eruption on Friday — #ashtag, which continued to gain steam — another also started to take hold on Saturday: @getmehome, as well as #roadsharing and #stranded. Travellers asked for accomodations, others offered them, and groups helping those stranded co-ordinated their actions using social tools, including the Roadsharing site. On Sunday, Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum posted a message saying that Twitter “has been an incredible lifeline these last few days.” He later wrote a blog post about his experiences with social media. (David Weinberger was less impressed with the way the rest of the Internet handled the volcano disruption).
Some, like Rita J. King, CEO of Dancing Ink Productions, blogged their predicament (King said she is planning to turn her blog post into a talk at the impromptu TEDxVolcano event in London on Sunday night). Others shared photos of their surroundings, or of the volcano itself, including an incredible image of lightning forking through the clouds of ash (there are also some great photos of the ash cloud posted to Flickr by Baldvin Hansson, who flew over the volcano). Someone even set up a Twitter account for the ash cloud, which had over 1,000 followers by the end of Saturday. Information is Beautiful chose to look on the bright side and calculated the positive side of the lack of airplane traffic, and First Round Capital decided to have an impromptu meeting with startups, since some of the firm’s VCs were stuck in Europe by the ash cloud. The New York Times has a map of all the affected airports, which it is updating regularly as new reports come in.
Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Cessna 206