Cambridge tech firm powers Times Square 9/11 project
When the annual 9/11 Day campaign, which encourages Americans to participate in charitable service on each anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks, kicks off in Times Square on Thursday, it will generate a flood of pledges from people promising to do good works. Those pledges, made both in-person and online, will appear on the campaign’s website, and on giant video screens in the heart of New York City.
But first, they will be routed through a modest office in Cambridge’s Central Square, where employees at local tech outfit Aerva Inc. will collect, screen, and transmit the thousands of personal pledges.
Aerva makes tools to filter and curate submitted photos and text for public display. The technology is already in use in Times Square, where it manages a flood of cell phone snapshots sent by visitors for display on a Kodak billboard. Aerva tools are used to reject blurry or inappropriate pictures.
The 9/11 Day event is the kickoff for an outreach campaign that will continue until Sept. 11, to allow time for organizers to plan service projects and recruit volunteers. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, users anywhere in the world will be able to send photos and simple pledges, each beginning with the phrase, “I will...,” to 911Day@aerva.com, or the Twitter handle @911Day. Individuals in Times Square will be able to stand next to a 30-foot sculpture that spells out “_ will”, completing the phrase by forming an “I” with their bodies, and have their picture sent into the campaign feed.
Aerva employees in Cambridge will sift through the deluge of incoming images and text. Once approved, images will be sent back to Times Square, looming over the street for about eight seconds each.
This is the second year that Aerva has donated its resources to the project, which is organized by MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit group founded in the wake of 9/11. MyGoodDeed, which is based in Newport Beach, Calif., led the campaign to have Sept. 11 designated by Congress as a national day of service, a goal that was achieved in 2009. In 2011, about 33 million people participated in some form of charity on Sept. 11, making it the largest-ever day of service in the country’s history, according to MyGoodDeed.
“We wanted 9/11 to be a day where we put aside differences we might have, and come together as people,” said MyGoodDeed co-founder David Paine. “That would be the ultimate, most worthy gift to those who lost their lives or family.”
Paine’s group recruited Aerva for its technology, which was designed to interactively connect advertisers and consumers. “The idea that you can stand on a sculpture, have your picture taken, and that it could be seen all over the world in seconds is extraordinarily powerful,” Paine said.
Before Aerva marketing manager Jeannette Hon screened 9/11 Day submissions last year, she was concerned that the process might be painful or emotional, but those fears were unfounded, she said.
“Most people put very positive messages,” said Hon, who will again be screening pledges on Thursday. “It was very uplifting; a lot of inspirational tributes. I’m looking forward to reading all of them and seeing the photos again this year.”
Last year’s 9/11 Day campaign generated more than 100,000 pledges, pictures and stories, according to MyGoodDeed. On that day, the group added 45,000 fans to its Facebook page.
Paine said that while some bold promises stood out, what stuck with him were the smaller gestures, such as children who promised to help their siblings with homework. “Those are young people not even old enough to remember what happened on 9/11, yet they feel inspired enough to do a good deed anyway,” he said. “It’s one of the most profound things I’ve ever seen.”Dan Adams can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.