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Asia Earthquake and Tsunamis: Blogs a platform to make a difference
Dina Mehta, 28 Dec 04

Worldchanger Dina Mehta writes from Mumbai:

It's been a strange two-three days: much shock and horror about the devastating earthquake and tsunamis, much helplessness too -- and a desire to do something, as the reports just keep on pouring in with more and more horrible news. I was speaking with a friend earlier, when I said I just feel like packing a bag and going off to the disaster areas to volunteer to help. I know thats not practical.

Then I got involved in two community projects that have consumed all my energies and have made me feel I am contributing more than by just sending off money or clothes, which is what I would have done otherwise. I've been blogging at WorldChanging and in the last two days have felt the support of a community that is truly worldchanging - I feel the blog has moved to a very influential position where real action can come out of conversations and dialogue. Like the relief fund that has already collected a good amount of dollars for victims of the earthquake and tsunamis.

The other is SEA-EAT(South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunamis) Blog - pulling together news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts. It is a living document, one I have seen it grow in a few hours to an amazing resource, as a result of so many wonderful people volunteering to share information and resources. It both leverages and stregthens our beliefs in the strength of community and an open space where anyone can contribute in real time and real voices, that have driven us together to work on this project. Since then, it has grown - we now have requests of all sorts coming in - some to allow translations into different languages, requests to mirror the blog onto other pages, to set up pages for people who are looking for their loved ones gone missing.

And some stats - almost 21,000 visitors in just about 24 hour ; around 30 contributors until now.

I think this blog would help people find resources on how to help/contribute quickly and efficiently. I'd like to believe we are making a difference.

On hindsight I wish we had set up the SEA-EAT (South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami) blog on a wiki instead. It was such a quick and spontaneous decision that we just wanted to get on with building the resources rather than fuss about the platform.

We now have 28 contributors at last count, and every few moments one if us gets asked if someone can pitch in and the answer is most always yes. Because its a community that is open, a community of people wanting to pitch in and make a difference as we watch the horror unfurling in this part of the world. We know the magic of community in coming together for a cause. Perhaps a wiki might have captured the spirit better?

There's lots of great stuff coming in, but as blog posts roll back into the archives they disappear from the front page, and because of the number of contributors, some amount of duplication too. Moreover, we did not set categories as we didnt know where we were going with this except that we wanted to gather resources together into one space. And i only just realised that Blogger doesnt allow categories !

As a result of tremedous traffic, requests for all sorts of things are pouring in. We've had requests to allow translations into different languages, requests to mirror the blog onto other pages, requests to set up pages for people who are looking for their loved ones gone missing. As I write this we are discussing the taxonomy for categories and looking at Blogger templates. Some pages/categories/navigation bars we need to build - country specific, enquiry/helplines/emergency services, personal stories from the scene, update on news and stats, a space for missing persons, message board, rescue operations, contribute by country/NGO's, and perhaps more as we go along. Because we are building the resource so fast and in a completely open manner - there are now 28 contributors, and the pages are getting muddled and lost. Blogger doesn't do categories i am told - so maybe a navigation bar or sub-blogs linking back to the main blog, with posts appearing on both may be the way to go. We definitely donot want to lose the url we have already. Any suggestions ?

This only reinforces my belief that a wiki might have been a much better medium - not only would these pages be separate yet part of a faceted collection and linked to each other, it might have been much easier for someone to navigate and jump in and post as well. Or to open a new page that they felt was relevant without checking back with admin. Morover, the layers we might have wanted would be so easy to build. And few entry barriers about asking whether they could post or not. Owned by all - a true community.

All we might have needed then is a wiki gardener!

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Comments

Actually, I'd say that a content management system such as Drupal would work wonders, since it offers blogging, collaborative books, and many other features such as RSS.

Of course, content management systems that are this powerful are somewhat scarey to the uninitiated. But they work quite well, and also allow the ability to track news feeds on the site and allow for comments from registered users. And everyone gets a blog. Of course, you'll need a server/domain name and MySQL and PHP installed (just like a Wiki). But I think a Wiki is only part of the solution; a content management system offers a more complete solution in this scenario.

My two cents.


Posted by: Taran on 28 Dec 04

It is hard to fully comprehend the true impact and devastation that has occurred. No matter how much reading or blogs that are available. I feel sadness and trememdous compassion and sympathy for the horrific loss of life. I feel helpless, I wish I could leave my comfortable surroundings and fly over to help with the relief effort. I felt the same feelings when the towers collapsed and there was no way to get to the hot zone to help search for survivors. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the people here in the U.S. that have relatives in those countries who have lost loved ones.


Posted by: Jessica on 28 Dec 04

Nick Lewis has proposed building an 'Emergency Action Blog' using CivicSpace (which is based on Drupal). We set up a list to discuss requirements and taxonomy. To subscribe, send a blank message to eab-subscribe at activist-tech.org.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 28 Dec 04

On Sunday afternoon, one did not expect the disaster to grow into such proportions and keep growing. The horror of it is simply too much for the mind to comprehend. I am thinking small...if we can send enough to help one person, enough clothes, enough food, for one child...one woman...one man...
And pray...for everyone.


Posted by: Chandrika on 28 Dec 04

On Sunday afternoon, one did not expect the disaster to grow into such proportions and keep growing. The horror of it is simply too much for the mind to comprehend. I am thinking small...if we can send enough to help one person, enough clothes, enough food, for one child...one woman...one man...
And pray...for everyone.


Posted by: Chandrika on 28 Dec 04

For the Content Management, you could use del.icio.us in the following way:

1) set up a del.icio.us account for SEA-EAT and publish the login and password on the SEA-EAT blog.

2) choose the appropriate keywords to describe the various topics covered by the blog in a format such as "seaeat_personal_accounts", "seaeat_emergency_services" (thus ensuring the uniqueness of the keywords within del.icio.us) and publish those keywords along with the del.icio.us login/password

3) hack some JavaScript into the Blogger template to pull in the headlines of the RSS feed of each of the SEA-EAT keywords in delicious using Feed2JS or similar service:

An example from my blog's template ("view source" to see code) —

[XML newsfeed]

4) Finally add an instruction to the SEA-EAT blog for people to tag their posts, whether on their own or the SEA-EAT blog, in del.icio.us using the keywords specified, either with their own account or by using the sea-eat account

5) It's a hassle to have to add the del.icio.us tagging stage to the blogging process, but until these kinds of tools are integrated into CMS and browser, it's the best work around for the distributed conversation across blogs but according to topic (something Technorati doesn't yet facilitate) you're looking for


Posted by: Luke Razzell on 29 Dec 04

Tsunami
Just a few years since 9-11,
it's all over the Internet, linking headlines, one after another
bodies stretched on a beach, washed back to shore,
the smell of thousands gone to heaven

as survivors sit inside a circle of grief
for lost children and mothers,
fathers, holiday goers at peak-season with an ocean view,
indigenous peoples extinct below the ground cover

while the war in the Middle East,
which has absorbed our world with its killing,
continues to make a daily blood sacrifice
for some religious rant or right.

The dead are all dead. Nature pulled a fast one.
She inquires, "How can we help the living?"


Posted by: lenore weiss on 30 Dec 04

I am horrified by the impact of this natural disaster. If there is anyone who has any information on organisations or individuals who are recruiting volunteers please e-mail me information. My father is a doctor and we are ready and willing to fly over and help in any way we can.


Posted by: Amelia on 30 Dec 04

My heart goes out to everyone...the victims as well as the stunned citizens of the world. They say that this was so big that it changed the rotation of the earth and shook up time by a fraction of a second. We seem so insignificant in this. Does anyone know about 'ocean trenches' such as the ocean trench known as the Sea of Cortez and the ocean trench that runs along the western coast of Baja California? I am in San Diego, California and as long as I can remember people have joked about California falling into the Pacific some day. My fears are re-newed. It seems to me that the San Andreas Fault converges with the Sea of Cortez ocean trench about 140 miles east of us and to the west we have another ocean trench lying beneath the surface. I guess the key question is: How far down into the earth does an ocean trench go? Is it 2 miles or 2000 miles? Are we just like a little speck of dust waiting all these years to fall into the ocean? This would be another gigantic tragedy, taking Los Angeles, San Francisco and the original Disneyland with it. I don't know what to think. Either it is so obvious that it probably won't happen or we are just plain stupid to have built so much civilization upon this huge, cracked wedge of earth. Thanks for letting me digress a bit from my sorrow. Godspeed to all of you in Asia and Africa and everywhere there beats a caring heart.
Diane in San Diego


Posted by: Diane on 30 Dec 04

One seismologist with an email list could have changed this entire disaster.

Why billion dollar buoys? We have the technology at our fingerips.

JEP


Posted by: John Edward Patterson on 31 Dec 04

i would like to see a picture of the tidial wave as it first hit shore, not so much the after effects but the beginning..


Posted by: Jack Layton on 2 Jan 05

tsunami is a great reminder of how journalism could report only the ordinary and the extraordinary of the ordinary. it is laos a reminder of how words and even pics cannot transmit the real pain and agony of the suffering. what is the use of technology that does not help in empathising more with the needy?


Posted by: gopalakrishnan on 8 Jan 05



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