When gunmen started spraying Mumbai with bullets and seizing the city’s landmarks, countless people around the globe turned not to the television or the radio for news, but to each other.
Blogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Flickr buzzed with eyewitness accounts from India’s financial capital, providing some of the first photos of the besieged targets and serving as a forum for pleas for updates on friends and family.
Photos posted on Flickr just 90 minutes after the attacks had been viewed at least 110,000 times by Sunday.
Twitter users, who simply tagged their comments “mumbai,” traded information at a rate of 50 to 100 posts a minute in messages that were sometimes wrong, often fragmented, but always instant.
The lightning-quick updates of the attacks that killed 174 people read like a sketchy but urgent blow-by-blow account of the siege, providing further evidence of a sea change in how people gather their information in an increasingly Internet-savvy world.
“’Emergency’ can some one check if there bomb blast of some shootout in oberoi hotel of anywhere in Mumbai? I am at inox inside,” a user named Puneet wrote on Twitter, a popular “microblogging” Web site, shortly after the violence began.
“I just heard what sounded like a bomb blast! I hope I am wrong,” krazyfrog, a user in Mumbai, wrote soon after.
“People stay where you are. We’re under attack,” wrote Whizzkidd, also in the city.
The dramatic siege, which targeted some of the city’s most famous landmarks, threw the user-generated corner of the Internet into high gear.
A Google map of the targets was created hours after the violence began and had received 375,000 hits at last glance. A Wikipedia page was created for the attacks and has been updated thousands of times.
Blogs like Mumbai Heros were created to honor the victims.
Vinukumar Ranganathan, 27, posted some of the first photos of the attacks. After hearing the initial blasts on Wednesday night last week, he grabbed his camera and rushed outside his apartment near many of the targets. He found a chaotic scene of destroyed cars, buildings with blown out windows, and pools of blood spreading in the street and finally arrived at the besieged headquarters of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish center ahead of most of the local and international press.
An hour and a half later — while much of the world was still struggling to understand what was unfolding — Ranganathan announced on Twitter that he had posted 112 photos on Flickr, a popular photo-sharing Web site.
Over the next three days, he ventured out into the streets several times, photographing and posting what he saw.
The pictures are blurry and raw, but taken together provide a compelling portrait of the week’s chaos and carnage.
“I was just updating online because I could see the buildings from my house,” Ranganathan, who works at a mobile texting company, said in an interview. “I just felt that there were lots of people I was communicating with who were also my friends, so it was about the personal connection.”
But many of the posts repeated rumors or were just plain wrong.
“Suspected attacker waving white flag for ceasefire,” Whizkidd wrote as the 60-hour siege was just getting under way.
Later, the same user asked: “Am i seeing smoke emanating from the hilton towers??”
He wasn’t — the Hilton hotel in Mumbai was never attacked, and Whizkidd corrected himself a minute later.