UK turns to tweets and live streams to manage 5-mile queue for The Queen

The British have always had a reputation as a nation of queues, but even by our standards the past few days have been plenty. As the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth II lies in London’s Westminster Hall, thousands lined up to pay their respects to the country’s longest-serving monarch. To manage this kilometer-long line, which many have simply called Tailthe UK government has turned to platforms such as TwitterYouTube and Instagram to provide up-to-the-minute updates.

Although The Queue is currently at capacity, with the government advising new people not to join, as of 9am UK time. DCMS reported that it was 4.9 miles (nearly 8 km) long, with an estimated waiting time of 14 hours. It’s more than half a day of slow shuffling to spend, at most, a few brief moments in the same room as the late Queen’s coffin.

Several times a day, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been tweet updates to The Queue, noting the length of the line, as well as the time newcomers must wait before reaching Westminster Hall. The Twitter account also uses the geolocation service What3Words (a service that assigns three short words to identify specific GPS locations) to direct people to the exact location of The Queue’s ending.

But for anyone who needs even more up-to-date information on the queue, there’s also a DCMS YouTube live stream, which has up-to-the-minute information on the line of mourners that winds its way through the Westminster Bridge and along the south bank of the river. Thames. As of this writing, just under nine thousand people are watching.

A screenshot of the government's YouTube queue tracker.

“Do not try to join” The queue.
Screenshot: YouTube

There have been hiccups with the technology used to tame The Queue. Gizmodo reports that several of the What3Words locations tweeted by DCMS showed incorrect locations as far away as California thanks to minor typos in the geolocation phrases. For example, what should have been shops.view.paths (a square just north of London’s Tate Modern) was accidentally tweeted as shops.views.paths (which points to Charlotte, North Carolina).

But what is it all mean? I like this take from Twitter user @curiousguanawho asks if The Queue could be “the greatest piece of British performance art that has ever happened?”

“It is the seam of the queues. It’s art. It’s poetry. This is the queue to end all queues,” they write. “It opened earlier today and is already 2.2 miles long. They’ll shut it down if it gets to five miles. It’s a queue that would take two hour walk at high speed… You can’t have a chair and a sleeping bag. There is no sleep in The Queue, as The Queue moves constantly and steadily, day and night.

write in The new statesman, Marie Le Conte wonders if “the queue is, in its own British way, a classic example of how people deal with grief. Something big and terrible has happened and you don’t know what to do with yourself, so you throw your whole being into something a little absurd instead.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II is one of those weird national moments that is hard to properly engage with. It’s not an event you have to physically show up to like an election or a major sporting match, it’s just…in tune with the times. Right now, The Queue is one of the few tangible things you can actually interact with and feel like you’re participating in a moment in history.

When Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, died in 1952, a the same long line of mourners formed to honor him. In an article published that year on the so-called Great Queue, Time noted that “no one could accurately measure or trace the serpentine columns of human beings that formed and reformed, doubled, branched and coiled again along the streets of London and across the cold bridges of the Thames, to get a last glimpse of the coffin of the dead king. 70 years later, with the web and GPS technology allowing us to track The Queue’s ripples online in great detail, the situation couldn’t be more different.

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