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Magazines > Searcher > May 2005
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SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Vol. 13 No. 5 — May 2005
Web Waves
Tsunami Blogs Respond to Disaster
by Miguel Ramos | Library Technician, Inter-Library Loans, Western Washington University
and Paul S. Piper | Librarian, Western Washington University


At 7:58:53 a.m. local time on Dec. 26, 2004, approximately 100 miles off Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, the largest earthquake since 1964 (in Prince William Sound) occurred, registering 9.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake was the result of the India tectonic plate sliding under the Burma tectonic plate. The resultant tsunami, one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, is estimated, by the U.S. Geological Survey, to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The result of that force hit the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Africa with a sequence of waves moving at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.

The tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, has become another defining moment in the evolution and use of blogs. These distributed, interactive resources rallied around the disaster in ways that allowed readers to learn of the disaster, find ways to help through direct donations or volunteer opportunities, and cope with the grief that such an event inevitably brings.

Moving from personal, journal-style entries, blogs have addressed politics, war reportage, and, now, humanitarian aid efforts. Their power to reach vast numbers of people quickly with eye-witness reportage, graphics, opinion, and collections of news articles, and their ability to side-step government and corporate control have made blogs powerful forums for sharing information. The current manifestation of tsunami-related blogs are another step along a road that continually sees blogs creatively reacting to world events and gaining in popularity, respect, and impact.

New blogs, such as The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog [http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com/] and Tsunami Disaster in Malaysia and Thailand [http://tsunamipenang.blogspot.com/] were set up immediately following the tsunami as resources for people to make direct-aid donations, learn of the tsunami’s effects, assist in finding missing persons, and assist in public health and communication issues. Blogs such as worldchanging 
[http://www.worldchanging.com/] provided links to these and other disaster-relief-related blogs. The snowball effect of linkage and creation continued until a whole new category of blogs emerged. Within days of the disaster, Yahoo.com created a directory listing for Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami Blogs [http://dir.yahoo.com/Science/Earth_Sciences/Geology_and_Geophysics/
Seismology/Historic_Earthquakes/Indian_Ocean___December_26__2004/Blogs/]
.

These blogs, focused and created around a single event, are examples of how people from around the world are keeping one another informed and at the same time reaching out a helping hand. Representing a new form of activism, the blogs demonstrate a way to organize information and aid in times of need.

The following blogs are categorized by format and geography.

Video Blogs

The tsunami led to a quantum leap for video blogging (or vlogging). Previous to this, the use of video blogging was sporadic and fairly mundane, with highlights being a clip of Ashlee Simpson caught lip-synching on Saturday Night Live and Jon Stuart on Crossfire. Sharing video clips (and graphics and newsfeed) on blogs seems to proceed without a great deal of regard for copyright.

The Indian Ocean tsunami was captured on video by professional and amateur alike, using traditional video cameras, digital cameras, and even cell phones. Often extremely graphic and even horrific due to their unedited amateur quality, these videos can also reflect the human tragedy better than processed news reports.

WaveofDestruction.org seems to have emerged as the central repository for tsunami disaster photos and videos, currently hosting over 50 videos shot over the entire affected region. An unannotated list of video links in .wmv format is available at http://www.waveofdestruction.org/videos/.

Of the six videos hosted at Waxy.org [http://www.waxy.org/archive/2004/12/28/amateur_.shtml] , several register the awe of observers turning to horror as the unthinkable happens. Most of these are shot from safe rooftop vantages, but one was shot from inside a restaurant in Phuket that subsequently floods; the sounds of screaming, breaking glass, and collapsing furniture is nearly overwhelming. These clips are all .wmv, playable on Windows Media Player.

While not a tsunami blog per se, Jordan Golson [http://jlgolson.blogspot.com/2004/12/tsunami-video.html] hosts a number of video clips of the Indian Ocean tsunami, including one describing what a tsunami is and how it works. Due to heavy traffic, there have been substantial waits to view these. Many other sites host tsunami videos as well. You can find more by searching Google for “tsunami videos blog”.

In addition to the use of video images on blogs to portray an experience that needs to be seen to be truly believed, some blogs use a type of photo-sharing software called Flickr [http://www.flickr.com/]. Flickr is an application that allows photos to be stored, searched, and shared online (such as at the SEA-EAT blog described below). This innovative tool presents itself on the blog page as an ever-changing 3x4 matrix of photographs that randomly expand and contract as you watch. Though used on blogs in the past to share random or subject-specific photos, the photos cycled on tsunami blogs are usually of missing persons. Clicking on any of the photos takes you to a Flickr page containing that person’s information (name, date of birth, when and where they were last seen). It is a heartbreaking experience to spend time looking at photos of missing people, but occasionally one will have a simple “Has been found safe” tag under it. The use of Flickr to identify and track down missing persons is a powerful example of one way that tsunami bloggers are using novel technologies in unexpected ways.

Tsunami Blog Directories

The organization of tsunami blogs into coherent categories has not yet occurred in any great scale and may never happen due to the transitory nature of many of these blogs. As mentioned above, Yahoo! has organized a collection of around 20 blogs dedicated to the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Tsunamihelp [http://www.tsunamihelp.info/wiki/index.php/Blogs] has the most comprehensive collection of tsunami links we have yet found. More than 100 blogs are divided into the following categories: Regional, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Journalist blogs, Personal blogs, and Blog lists and other blogs. The regional divisions are particularly interesting.

Tsunamihelp is itself a distinctive type of format — a wiki, or by one definition, “the simplest online database that could possibly work.” Organized as a page of information with links and comments, wikis are distinguished by software that allows users to add content to a page and to edit the existing content on the page. Democratic use is encouraged by this open editing design, but content must be judged on the merits of the community of users — anyone can alter content to reflect personal bias or more accurate knowledge. In-depth information about wikis appears at the WikiWikiWeb [http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WelcomeVisitors], a site devoted to wikis and part of the community of the Portland Pattern Repository [http://c2.com/ppr/], the original wiki.

As noted on the Tsunamihelp page, “Please be aware that due to the nature of wiki technology and that anybody (sic) may edit the information on any of these pages, the information here comes without any kind of warranty, explicit or implied. Information provided here is often not verified by others, and scams involving donations are a problem in general. Please use the information carefully and at your own risk.”

General search engines such as Google can help locate tsunami blogs, as can specialized search engines, especially those that specifically search blogs or newsfeeds. The following yielded valuable results when searched by relevant keywords: Feedster [http://www.feedster.com/], Daypop [http://www.daypop.com/], Bloglines [http://www.bloglines.com/], Blogpulse [http://www.blogpulse.com/], and Blogdigger [http://www.blogdigger.com/].

General Southeast Asia Blogs

The above-mentioned Tsunamihelp, aka the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami (SEA-EAT) blog [http://www.tsunamihelp.blogspot.com], is possibly the most comprehensive blog generated by the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. More than 40 people work on the collaborative effort. Tsunamihelp has acted as a central orchestrating and information center for the relief effort. In addition to a general information blog (reporting on continuing earthquakes in the region at the time of writing), there are categories dedicated to specific aspects of relief: Enquiry, Missing Persons, News Updates, Help Needed, and Help Offered. The Enquiries section hosts a plethora of shared phone numbers, e-mails, Web sites, and other contact information for those seeking general and specific disaster and relief information. The Missing Persons section is for people looking for loved ones and also includes people, primarily children, who have been found and not identified.

Tsunamihelp also offers specific categories of information for Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka, with contact information specific to each country. The site includes a missing persons Flickr (photographs) page. A News Updates section provides links to a wide diversity of disaster news reports, from scientific to social. The Help Needed and Help Offered sections match those seeking to help with organizations that need it. There have been — and will continue to be — shifts in the type of assistance needed. At writing, the focus was primarily oriented towards public health, food, and rebuilding. Blogs are a great communication vehicle for representing the needs of a fast-changing environment.

The site provides links to a number of other sources, including government/political information and fundraising events. Other features include a search engine, a statistical snapshot (updated), and availability in eight other languages.

Be the Change [http://www.bethechange.org/index.php/] states in its own words: “Two days prior to the Dec. 26th tsunami, a group of volunteers that run ProPoor.org decided to create a Weblog (blog), an interactive forum for service action in South Asia. Two days after the tsunami, that blog was inundated with hundreds of daily comments from around the globe.” [ProPoor is a nonprofit organization registered in Kolkata (India), Singapore, and Atlanta, Ga. (USA). Established in 1998, ProPoor is committed to the dissemination of information and promotion of sustainable development initiatives, in response to the needs of underrepresented and marginalized sectors of society in South Asia.]

The people who created Be the Change had no idea how timely and necessary their blog would become. This blog continues to do an admirable job of linking people who want to volunteer with volunteer opportunities. The site also features a section called “Stories of Hope” that depicts everyday heroism and the triumph of the human spirit. We couldn’t resist quoting the following post to that section. “Two years ago, drought-stricken farmers in Tamil Nadu (India) walked into the Guinness Book of World Records by planting the highest number of saplings in a 24-hour period. On Dec. 26, as the killer tsunami struck down thousands of people and homes in Tamil Nadu state, the casuarina and eucalyptus trees which had been planted to appease the weather gods saved the lush green village of Naluvedapathy. Of the nearly 8,000 people who died in the state, including 6,000 in one fishing village, only seven were from Naluvedapathy.”

Sri Lanka

The Relief for Sri Lanka [http://www.reliefforsrilanka.blogspot.com], sponsored by the Rotary Club of Colombo, tracks disaster relief efforts and donations. In addition to updates specific to relief efforts (no witness testimonies), this site also hosts a collection of aid photographs. In one of their posts the author notes: “The international powers of blogging were highlighted last night at Rotary Club of Colombo Regency’s Long-Term Relief Project meeting with the attendance of three Californian volunteers.”

Tsunami Help for Sri Lanka: Psychosocial Issues [http://www.tsunamihelpsrilanka.blogspot.com] is a unique and fascinating site, in that it concentrates solely on the psychological issues that have emerged in the post-disaster realm. The contributors are health professionals. There is a particular emphasis on children, who were especially tramatized, with many of the surviving children orphaned or separated from family. A document written for surviving children who live close to the ocean, called “Why Did the Sea Come Over the Land” [http://www.miabridal.com/batticaloa/
WHY_DID_THE_SEA_COME_OVER_THE_LAND_ENGLISH.pdf]
, is posted on the site in three languages. This document lucidly (in text and graphics) and scientifically details the geological actions behind a tsunami. We suspect it serves to address and revoke the local religious and folklore rationale for the disaster and the ongoing fear that these beliefs can generate.

Sarvodaya [http://www.blogforsrilanka.com] is a community-building organization with the goal of a comprehensive and nonviolent social transformation. The program espouses self-reliance, community participation, and a holistic approach to community, and has, over the past 47 years, motivated thousands of people to meet what they call the 10 basic human needs, ranging from a clean and adequate drinking water supply to simple housing and sanitation, communications facilities, an energy supply, education, and ways of satisfying spiritual and cultural needs. The blog has become a rallying point for the Sri Lankan relief effort. At the time of writing, the organization was involved in a massive well-cleaning endeavor to ensure clean drinking water.

Waves of Hope [http://www.wavesofhope.org] is a nonprofit news site dedicated to disaster relief efforts and has much to offer. The site features news organized by specific geographic regions within Sri Lanka. Other categories include finance, medicine, sanitation, politics, infrastructure, roads, telecom, and photographs. There is also a healthy collection of links to related sites.

India

Sumankumar, a technical writer living in Bangalore, Karnataka, India, set up and hosts the Tsunami Help India blog [http://tsunamihelpindia.blogspot.com/]. Tsunami Help features news, personal observations, links, and touching posts like this: “Dear Sir, Here i (sic) am sending my son details with Photo, please find him and inform if any details you got about my son. Thanking You” (name withheld). Sumankumar also hosts a site [http://sumankumar.com/tsunami/] that is exclusively photos.

The education-oriented organization ASHA hosts Asha’s Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation [http://ashatsunamirelief.blogspot.com/] which primarily deals with issues of education in the wake of the tsunami. There are several impressive illustrated guides to disease prevention on the site.

Vibha’s Tsunami Relief & Rehabilitation [http://vibhatsunamirelief.blogspot.com/] is hosted by Vibha, a social agency committed to India’s children. Among other information, it has a booklet on tsunamis written in Tamil and English specifically for children; most of the information is child-centric. India Tsunami Relief  [http://indiatsunamirelief.blogspot.com/] is another blog dedicated to relief in India.

Not all the blogs that featured disaster information were created for that purpose, as we have seen with groups such as Sarvodaya, which adopted coverage after the tragic event. Another category of blogs relayed information in the form of the personal blogs of people who happened to be in or near affected areas. Although there are many of these, we have chosen only one example.

India Uncut [http://indiauncut.blogspot.com/], the blog of Amit Varma from Mumbai, India, has a sub-blog, India Uncut  — The Tsunami Posts [http://indiauncut-tsunami.blogspot.com/], which contains “all my writing while traveling through the tsunami-affected areas of Tamil Nadu, immediately before and after.” Peppered with numerous links and beginning on December 26th with a reminiscence of the 1993 earthquake that hit Maharashtra, India, where he was attending college, this blog gives a haunting look at the emotions and reflections of an intelligent, sensitive witness.

Indonesia

Indonesia Help [http://www.indonesiahelp.blogspot.com/] is probably the most comprehensive site for Indonesia tsunami disaster news. The site contains numerous updated news stories (“Fish Return to Aceh, but Disease Risk Still High”) from AFP, AP, and Reuters; links to extensive regional relief agencies; advice about donating; donations by country; online donations; bank accounts that accept donations; a link to five searchable victim’s list databases; and background on Aceh. The site also hosts extensive posts and archives, some in Indonesian.

Rajan Rishyakaran’s blog [http://www.blog.rajanr.com/] is politically oriented and his coverage and commentary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami is transitory and biased, but also very unique. The blog’s archive features a calendar, making it easy to view posts on any particular day, and this is a very active blog. His commentaries include numerous news reports, links to other blogs (including a number of personal bloggers) and Web sites, brash commentary, and, of course, reader response. The unique feature of this blog is his focus on how the Indonesian political situation influenced aid and disaster response.

Pusat Data Aceh [http://aceh.abangadek.com/index.php/EN_HomePage] is not a blog per se, but rather a wiki-like Web environment. In Indonesian, with an English version, its thrown-together design only accentuates the desperation and sense of urgency that followed the tsunami disaster. The site contains news in English from The Aceh Media Centre, Indonesia Help, Aceh Aid Brigade, and The Jakarta Post. The site also contains a missing list, graphic archive, contact information, and several links. The site is still minimally kept up and represents a snapshot of the immediacy of the Web.

Another excellent source of Aceh information is the Aceh IT-Media Center’s Web site [http://web.acehmediacenter.or.id/eng/?dir=home], which hosts a staggering amount of information, including a discussion forum. The emphasis is on computer-oriented communication technology.

Maldives

Maldives is a small, tourist-oriented nation of around 340,000 people living on 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India. The highest point in the Maldives is only 2.5 meters above sea level. In spite of this, damage was amazingly light, with 82 dead, 26 missing, and substantial property damage.

Tsunamimaldives [http://tsunamimaldives.blogspot.com/] was created as an immediate (and temporary) disaster response mechanism and has redirected to http://www.tsunamimaldives.com/, which hosts updated news, volunteer and donation contact information, graphics and video, resort reports, and an ongoing casualty report.

Shockwaves in Maldives [http://shockwavesinmaldives.blogspot.com/] was created to address the immediate and long-range needs of disaster response. It is staffed by a group of photographers, writers, and Web designers. The site features news-style posts, graphics, a large number of links to relief agencies, tsunami disaster information, and news resources.

Malaysia and Thailand

The Tsunami Disaster in Malaysia and Thailand blog [http://www.tsunamipenang.blogspot.com] is an endeavor “to share a personal experience, locate a missing friend, or simply convey a message to the victims.” There are 12 contributors to this blog, which also hosts links to local aid organizations, photographs, and videos, including one of a wave of brown water surging down a street in Banda Aceh carrying away everything in its path. The blog contains requests for items ranging from computer equipment to local news clips.

The Digital Awakening [http://www.petertan.com/blog/archives/tsunami_tragedy/index.html] is a sub-blog of the personal blog of Petertan, a Malaysian Chinese man from Penang. Now in his late 30s, Petertan suffered spinal cord injury at 18 and was paralyzed from his chest down and is afflicted with chronic kidney failure. Blogging is one of his primary activities and his condition gives him great empathy and sensitivity. His blog includes a number of personal testimonies and photographs.

Phuket.com [http://www.phuket.com] hosts a discussion area [http://asiaweb-direct.com/forums/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=Tsunami], not a blog per se, though operationally similar. It deals with the tsunami and post-tsunami environment. There were 353 threads and 1,636 posts at the time of writing. Many of these posts relate to tourist information (hotel, resort, and restaurant damage), but the posts also discuss ghosts, which many locals believe haunt the area.

Several Web sites have blog-like interactive features that deserve to be mentioned: ThaiTsunami.com [http://www.thaitsunami.com/wps/portal] and The Official Thai Tsunami Information Center [http://www.csiphuket.com] are both in Thai and some English.

Somewhat extraneous to blogs, yet of interest to readers wanting detail on the Thailand tsunami damage and reaction, is the newsfeed at 2Bangkok.com [http://www.2bangkok.com/quakes.shtml]. Quite extensive and drawing from sources as diverse as CNN and local Thai press, it is broken out into days, from Dec. 26th to Jan. 4. In the feed’s own words:

This newsfeed was started at 8:10 a.m. on December 26, moments after the tremors from the initial earthquake were felt in Bangkok and before any tsunamis hit. That first day there was little news on the subject locally. Local Thai TV showed game shows and soap operas as the tragedy was underway. We posted links to local useful Web sites (that were at that time only in Thai) and Thai-language threads on local forums so they could be found by those who needed them. It was not until 3 days later that local newspapers started posting links to the local disaster relief agencies and government death toll press releases. 2Bangkok also made sure that each day’s last casualty stats were translated from Thai and posted each night. This is because in Bangkok wire reports do not go out overnight and the newspapers go to press early. As the blog world got involved in the information dissemination in the middle of the week, 2Bangkok.com narrowed its focus to what was showing on Thai TV and what was in the Thai-language newspapers again to focus on news that was not available elsewhere.

 This last sentence is quite telling as to the trust placed in blogs to report and assist in aiding disaster coverage and relief.

U.S. Blogs

Most of the blogs specifically created in response to the tsunami and kept current with updates of relief and recovery efforts are local in nature (from the South East Asia region), while most blogs based in the United States, though mentioning the tsunami in the days immediately after the event and occasionally providing updates of tsunami relief efforts, were not as singularly focused on the tsunami and its aftereffects. The following offers a brief sampling of some U.S. blogs and their activities.

Tsunami Missing Americans [http://tsunamimissingamericans.blogspot.com/] is a site dedicated to helping people look for missing Americans and a forum for those found safe anxious to announce their status or make contact with searchers.

World Changing [http://www.worldchanging.com/] is a blog focused on “Models, Tools, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future.” This highly informative blog covers issues of technology, politics, and science and looks at the ways these forces are changing our world for the better and for the worse. Though it hasn’t billed itself as a tsunami blog, it did provide excellent coverage of the tsunami through links to regional blogs and additional links for making donations and for volunteer opportunities. The site continues to post reports of reconstruction and fundraising efforts.

Two Weeks Off [http://www.twoweeksoff.com/blog.html] is written by Chris Durham, from Cookeville, Tenn., who traveled to Sri Lanka in April 2005 to participate in a 2-week organized effort to rebuild coastal communities in the Galle region of the Southwest coast of Sri Lanka. He used this blog to document his journey and share his experiences with friends, family, and interested Web readers. Updated frequently, this blog provides a very personal account of the reconstruction effort.

American Rick Von Feldt’s Tsunami Survivor Stories [http://phukettsunami.blogspot.com/] collects firsthand accounts of survival stories, as well as Rick’s own eyewitness report while vacationing on the beach in Phuket, Thailand. “The goal has been all along to have people connect to real feelings, not just what the televisions say in a 30-second … ‘sound-byte’ story,” said Von Feldt, speaking about his blog to National Geographic News.

Journalist Blogs

A separate class of blogs dealing with the tsunami and its aftereffects are those written by journalists. Most blogs of this type were only maintained and updated for a brief duration (usually less than a week), but a limited number continue to post on a regular basis, such as these two.

The David Albert and Aliyah Shanti India Log [http://shantinik.blogspot.com/] tracks the work of Land for the Tillers Freedom (LAFTI), an organization that has worked in the Nagai District of India to raise the social status of the Dalit caste for more than 30 years and which is now building permanent housing for tsunami victims. David Albert, author and magazine columnist, together with his daughter Aliyah, has worked with LAFTI in Nagapattinam, a region of India with numerous affected villages that faces the Bay of Bengal. This blog is full of interesting stories and observations of people facing an immense tragedy and finding ways to rebuild and carry on, as well as critiques of governmental and prawn farming decisions that left so many people vulnerable to the sea.

Mahangu.org [http://www.mahangu.org/] is written by a Sri Lankan newspaper journalist named Mahangu. He is a prolific writer and, though his blog is not explicitly about the tsunami, he has written both about the tsunami and its aftereffects. Those postings are currently in an archived area of his site, accessible from the home page. Detailing his personal observations of the disaster, Mahangu writes in an engaging, opinionated style that lends immediacy and openness to his posts.

Conclusion

Though offering personal observations and reportage, as most do, these blogs have served other constructive purposes: sharing emergency response information; connecting people to missing victims; and sharing information about donation and volunteer opportunities. These blogs were also created to handle an immediate need, which has been very successfully met. People with aid to give are finding those in need of aid.

As always with blogs, issues of anonymity have led to misleading, unverified, and, in some cases, outright illegal posts, as individuals have sought to take advantage of this tragedy in order to make money (from false donation programs) or to cause even more suffering (through the use of false e-mails describing family members’ deaths, in one awful example).

An interesting intersection of tsunami relief aid and international terrorism prevention efforts has resulted in scrutiny for at least one Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which operates in Indonesia. This organization has been under investigation for alleged terrorist financing and, because Indonesia is under pressure to contain Islamic militants, accepting aid from the IIRO becomes troublesome.

How are these blogs noticed? Without a readership, the blogs would become quickly ineffectual. One of the advantages of blogs is their interactive and referral nature. Most blogs will link to other blogs, usually of the same kind, and within the blogosphere (or the reader- and writership that congregate for and around blogs), this referral system acts as an effective attention-getting device. Given the fact, as reported by Pew Internet project [http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/144/report_display.asp], that blog readership is up 58 percent, and now accounts for 27 percent of all Internet use, we are seeing a social networking phenomenon that will continue to evolve and shape itself to current events and needs.

Many blogs at least mentioned the tsunami of Dec. 26 and, as the devastation and death toll grew, many of those began to point the way for their readership to other tsunami-specific blogs and to sites recruiting donations and/or volunteer aid. In this way attention grew, until the readership broke out of the blogosphere and became noticed by more mainstream media sources. This in turn drew more people to these blogs and ultimately into the relief efforts that generated the creation of the blogs in the first place.

Blogs of all types continue to evolve as forces of social change and information dissemination. Their scope and utility will continue to expand as the blogs react to future events. The Indian Ocean tsunami was a successful training ground, although an unfortunate one, for yet another critical level of blog utility.

From the Blogster’s Point of View We decided to “interview” selected blogs by e-mailing a quick survey. Three responded — Andy Lee at Tsunami Disaster in Malaysia and Thailand [http://tsunamipenang.blogspot.com], Nipun Mehta at Be the Change [http://www.bethechange.org/], and Alex Steffen from Worldchanging.com [http://www.worldchanging.com].

First, what unique contribution do you think blogs made to tsunami disaster reportage, critique, and relief?

Lee:  A number of tsunami-related blogs sprouted up within 24 hours of when the tsunami hit. Notable ones would be www.tsunamihelp.blogspot.com, which focused on India and Sri Lanka. I started www.tsunamipenang.blogspot.com with a focus instead on Malaysia and Thailand. I’m a Malaysian, and fortunately for us, we were not as badly affected as many other countries. The death toll in Malaysia was only 66, but thousands lost properties and livelihoods too.

Major news Web sites gave comprehensive coverage, providing a big picture of the disaster, but blogs contributed at a more personal level. Blogs provided the world with prompt, unadulterated, and nonsensationalized ground-level information. Blogs disseminated information at a micro level, and many of the stories and information that were found in blogs would not have even made their way into major news agencies. Information from all aspects and scales are just as important, and blogs provided that.

Mehta: Blogs provided an immediate way for people to express, share, and connect across geographical boundaries. Whereas before you would watch the news and contribute to Red Cross, this time Internet users could exchange ideas with other like-hearted folks and get live reports from people on the ground ... people like Amit Verma, who just started walking around the disaster-struck areas and blogging about what he saw: http://indiauncut-tsunami.blogspot.com/.

Steffen: I think Web-based citizen journalism is more flexible than traditional reporting, allowing reportage which is both quicker and of a different nature. The firsthand SMS messages coming out of Sri Lanka, for instance, were the best information available on the tsunami and its effects for several days after the disaster.

Second, do you think blogs have been successful in advancing relief efforts?

Lee: Yes it has, and in many ways, too. Local aid distribution and volunteer efforts were all better coordinated. Another aspect of the relief work was providing peace of mind to many worried people out there who had friends or relatives living in affected countries. Take my Web site, for example; there were a few cases where people posted messages looking for old friends whom they had lost contact with and were concerned on their safety. Lost friends were successfully reunited and some of them had not even personally seen the posts but it was brought to their attention by other friends who had stumbled upon it and had seen their names in the post. All these can be attributed to the pervasive nature and power of the World Wide Web.

Mehta: Absolutely. Because of the inherent interactive nature of blogs, the conversations around the relief efforts were accelerated in volume and expanded in geographical scope. Just on our BeTheChange.org blog, we saw thousands of users around the globe contact each other, share ideas, success stories, and even just reflections. Five year ago, the world had to no way to hear Arman Jaffer: “I am a 9-year-old, I am trying to sell the red ‘Relieve~Recover~Rebuild’ wristbands for $2 each. All profits are going to UNICEF. Please let me know if I could help in any other way.”

Steffen: Blogs were absolutely instrumental in rallying support for relief and reconstruction efforts. At Worldchanging.com, we teamed up with Architecture for Humanity and raised almost $150,000 for reconstruction.

Last, do you see blogs as having a significant role in future disaster/complex emergency situations?

Lee: I definitely do. This global disaster which has affected thousands and touched the hearts of millions the world over will have its stories to tell for a long time, and one of them is on how Internet technology has changed our lives forever.

Mehta: Tsunami is to blogs what 9/11 was to online donations. After 9/11, everyone knew why their Web site needed to have online donations; in the coming year, every Web site will understand why they need to have quickly updated information on their Web site. Given that, the future will see an evolution of sophisticated blogs that can not only serve as a platform for information exchange but also grow into an intelligent repository of searchable data.

Steffen: There are a bunch of posts on the topic of future emergency technologies on worldchanging — I’d recommend reading through them.…


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