Something cheerful for a Friday afternoon. Paul Ford at NYMag, “For the New Occupy, Size Is Everything“:
… I know a guy named Dan Phiffer, who is helping the Rolling Jubilee people with their web server. When we talked Monday night, he was worried that as the news got out, the site would crash. He and I ran down the technologies in use. There were weaknesses and vulnerabilities, precarious linkages to outside services. If a throng arrived, RollingJubilee.org might get swamped under the load. Then money couldn’t come in (bad) and the message wouldn’t go out (worse).
Scaling is everything. A site that works perfectly for a hundred people fails catastrophically with a hundred thousand. If you expect traffic you can’t just hope for the best. There are dials to turn, files to configure, variables to tweak…
After talking to Dan, I took a Q train from Union Square and, by the time it reached the Manhattan Bridge, he emailed to say he had shored up RollingJubilee.org. The easiest solution was to use Amazon’s S3 service, a giant cloud drive that can send the same file over the wires a zillion times without melting. Now, he thought, the site was ready for the masses….
On weekends the streets of Red Hook have been jammed with New Yorkers desperate to help, but there are not always enough tasks to go around—the challenges of scaling reasserting themselves again. The makeshift food and clothing distribution centers at churches and community centers are thronged with so many volunteers that the network seizes up. If Rolling Jubilee catches on it may also find an upper limit to the help it can provide. Increased demand could drive up the price of distressed debt from pennies on the dollar to nickels and dimes and quarters. The IRS may change its position and come calling.
There is this sudden understanding that there will be more storms. There is the awareness that for those hurt most by the financial crisis, relief may never come. These are the new tools of response: apartments stacked with rice bags, a Kickstarter for debt-retirement, a self-organizing civic immune system. Occupy, which didn’t seem to reach critical mass as a protest movement, is becoming a welfare provider. It seems so simple: Make meals for hungry people. Donate money to get people out of debt. The network is coming together, access points and nodes and hubs and the lines of communication between them. The big question remains: Will it scale?
So… what’s on the agenda for the weekend before (American) Thanksgiving?