Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)

March 25, 2003

At first glance, it looks like a 9-1-1 log or a transcript from the police scanner:

05:37pm Protesters damage cars on Second and Davis.
05:38pm March spreading north into Oldtown.
05:43pm Morrison Bridge closed again.

But the communications Thursday during antiwar protests in downtown Portland weren't from the police. Instead, they were part of 126 text messages sent out to 65 protesters' cell phones, pagers and e-mail accounts.

Protesters say they have long searched for an efficient and quick way of sharing news of bridge shutdowns, flag burnings and pepper spraying. And they seem to have found it in a relatively young wireless technology that is reliable, cheap and instantaneous, sending short bursts of text onto many cell-phone screens at once.

"It definitely helped spread the news around," said Michael Plump, a 24-year-old computer programmer who organized a text-messaging system to improve communication among protesters.

Spreading news of developments takes too long with cell-phone calls because organizers can reach only one person at a time. Walkie-talkies aren't reliable or secure enough. And most people don't have laptops with wireless e-mail access.

Plump said that since police pepper-sprayed him at a protest during President Bush's Aug. 23 visit to Portland, he has wanted to get more involved with peace protests.

"I wanted to help people know where the police actions were occurring and where they were pepper spraying so they could get away from it," Plump said.

Web of reports

So he developed a Web-based program that allows protesters to enter their cell phone or pager numbers or e-mail addresses into an online database, which he promoted on Portland activist Web sites. Most people received the alerts on cell phones or pagers, though a few received e-mails.

From 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday, about 15 protesters throughout downtown Portland phoned or sent e-mail and text messages to Plump's friend, Casey Spain. Spain summarized developments into a few words and sent them on to the 65 cell-phone numbers in the database.

Plump, who was in downtown Portland throughout the protests, said cheers erupted whenever Spain sent news of activists storming a bridge or highway.

And even amid the chaos, the protesters found time for text-messaging sarcasm:

08:27pm Rummor -- police may be planning assult from under Burnside Bridge.
08:28pm Someone plase scout under the bridge please!
08:31pm Police may be eating donuts under the bridge.

Cell-phone text messaging is gaining popularity. According to Telephia, a California research firm, 24 percent of U.S. cell-phone subscribers used text messaging in the first quarter of this year, up from 20 percent the previous quarter.

Verizon service up

Verizon Wireless, which charges 10 cents to send and 2 cents to receive each text message, has seen its news-alert service double since January for headlines about the military and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"A lot of people use text messaging now, and it has been going up all the time," said Georgia Taylor, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman.

Wireless companies began offering text messaging in the United States about two years ago, said Goli Ameri, president of eTinium, a Portland telecommunications consulting firm. It is not yet as popular in the United States as it is in Asia and Europe.

Intel recently ranked Portland the top city in the nation for the use of wireless technology, so Ameri said she isn't surprised that people here are finding new uses for text messaging.

"Portland is a pretty tech-savvy city," she said. "That's why you see so many of these new technologies get introduced here first."

Jeffrey Kosseff: 503-294-7605; jeffkosseff@news.oregonian.com

Copyright (c) 2003 Oregonian Publishing Co.
Record Number: 0303250041