The first newspapers came about back in the 1700’s to fulfill a need for importers and others with an interest in trade with the New World to keep track of the shipping schedules and see who was due into port that day. Tucked away in the business section of some papers you still see announcements of the day’s arrivals but it’s just a vestige of what I’m sure it used to be and I’m sure no one subscribes for this sole purpose.
Today, Jason Kottke points to Shiptracker which uses voluntary weather reports from ships around the world to track the location of ships in realtime. Imagine each of these dots pilied high with containers and then you get an idea of what kind of logistical problem faces an agency that wants to examine everything before clearing it for commerce. According to one document I found, US Customs cleared 5.7 million containers in 2001 but only checked the contents of 2% of them. There’s also later news reporting a much higher rate to the contrary.
In the old days, sending CDs via FedEx used to offer better throughput for businesses that needed to send large files back and forth to each other. I wonder what the true throughput of today’s shipping network is and how it’s changed since September 11th?