Two Haiti Articles at Change.Org: Volunteering from Home, and Social Media for Social Change
While much has been made of the incredible response to mobile donation campaigns, financial gifts are not the only way that people can support the relief effort following the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last week. In these days following the event, information is sometimes just as valuable as money, and two platforms are looking for your help to make sense of it all.
Help Identify Missing People
The Extraordinaries is a social venture that builds tools for crowdsourcing basic tasks. Their earliest focus was on tasks that matter to nonprofits, and one of their interfaces was a system for tagging photos. They've been working around the clock since the quake to adapt their tools to enable people to help identify missing persons in the tens of thousands of photos being taken by journalists and relief workers.
Go to http://haiti.beextra.org to help. The way it works is pretty simple:
- Volunteers cull through thousands of photos and add tags like "family," "aid worker" or "rubble" that help the photos fit into broader categories. Volunteers are vital in this process because they can distinguish between different types of people, and different image characteristics that computers cannot.
- Families who are missing people can use a new search engine built for this process to pull up all the photos that have tags that match their missing loved ones. For example, a family looking for their teenage daughter might search "female" and "teenager."
- The Extraordinaries have also built a people-powered facial recognition matcher that allows volunteers to browse through thousands of photos from Haiti looking for particular missing persons, whose photo sits right next to the browsed image for easy recall.
This is incredibly powerful stuff. More than 2,000 volunteers have already added some 20,000 tags to photos, and according to the Extraordinaries team, there have been about 20 possible matches identified so far.
Help Curate Twitter
I have written a number of times about the crowdsourced crisis info mapper Ushahidi. Basically, Ushahidi aggregates incidence reports from the ground via the web or SMS mobile gateway, categorizes and then plots them on a map in space and time.
The main challenge Ushahidi faces is how to separate valuable from useless information. One of the applications they're working on is a tool called "Swift River," which creates a stream of content from Twitter that's organized by hashtags like "#haiti," and gives volunteers the ability to quickly browse and forward the relevant messages to the Ushahidi system.
The application is still being developed, but is live here and can already be used to help.
One of the things that's amazing to me is that all of these tools are being built with conversations happening among the organizations building them. It's this kind of coordination, as well as innovation, that makes them models for future responses to disaster.
Social Media For Social Change Lessons From Haiti
This week, the social change conversation has been entirely dominated by Haiti. Indeed, this is the most vibrant and active I've seen the response to a disaster since Hurricane Katrina. I think there are a few lessons we can take about the state of social media for social change.
1. Make It Easy For People To Be As Generous As They Naturally Are: The most dominant meme across Twitter and Facebook have been the "Text To Donate" campaigns that are supporting the Red Cross and Wycleaf Jean's foundation Yele Haiti. The numbers keep going up, but way over a half million people have donated a combined total of almost $10 million through mobile giving in the two or so days since the quake. More money has come in through traditional means, but this is shattering mobile giving records and is evidence that when you make it easier for people to be generous, they respond.
2. Crowdsourcing Works Best When It's Well Coordinated: There have been a number of important milestones in the evolution of crowdsourcing during this crisis, but Ushahidi's real-time deployment and incredible leadership centralizing information has to be at the top of that list. But part of the reason is that they haven't just casually been asking people to submit information. They're running an amazingly coordinated option that includes not only the whole extended Ushahidi team, but volunteers like a dozen or so Tufts Fletcher School students. Check out http://sitroom.ushahididev.com/ to see their public stream of their tasks, assignments, and updates about what is going on.
3. The Social Technology Folks at The Department Of State May Be The Government Partner We've Been Waiting For. Honestly, I've been really impressed with how engaged Alec Ross and the team working with social media and other social technology at the Department of State have been able to be despite working within a massive government apparatus. Alec has the perfect background for work like this, having spent the last decade opening internet access around the world, but it's still awesome to see the Government taking a lead on this. For example, that "Text To Donate To Red Cross" campaign I mentioned in bullet one? A collaboration between mGive and the State Dept.
Both of these articles are by Nathaniel Whittemore:
Nathaniel is the founder of Assetmap, a San Francisco-based startup that builds web tools to help people better visualize and leverage their social capital. Before that, he was the founding director of the Northwestern University Center for Global Engagement.