Tsunami Blogs Respond to Disaster
by Miguel Ramos | Library Technician, Inter-Library Loans, Western Washington
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
effects, assist in finding missing persons, and assist
in public health and communication issues. Blogs such
[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
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
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
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
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/],
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
This last sentence is quite telling as to the
trust placed in blogs to report and assist in aiding
disaster coverage and relief.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.…