Category Archives: Digital Media

Thoughts on the signficance of Web 2.0

A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in i...

Image via Wikipedia

Posted by Claire B. Rubin

A few weeks ago, I read an article titled Researchers Claim Web 2.0 is a Massive Leap Forward in Evolution; it’s actually a press release from a conference newswire of the Future Research Group of the World Mind Network in Geneva.  This is a rather bold statement, as is the name of the think tank.  I have been intrigued with some of the points made since I first read it.   The article stimulates, poses some negatives, and ends on a hopeful note for more exciting times in the future with the use of new, powerful technologies.  A few quotes from that article are worth pondering:

…this [Web 2.0 development has enormous implications for business, culture, government, education, the Environment and sustainability – and yet almost no one realized this, because we’re too close to the situation to view it comprehensively.” Those who do realize it will be able to change society… because the power of today’s web to connect brains instantly ensures that ideas can be refined, shared, experimented with, improved, and perfected at warp speed, by hundreds of people in dozens of countries.

…according to the researchers, we have been given tools in the last five years which are …potentially revolutionary.”  The article then goes on to mention the prospects for Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google, and Twitter.

Finally, this important question is raised and answered, in part: Why do most human beings not sense the enormous power of their new tools?  Their replies include “ most web technologies are marketed as toys.” and “…most of the early adopters of Web. 2.0  have largely been young people, who tend to be more interested in entertainment than in changing the world.” “And the trivial and in some cases harmful uses they make of the new technologies do not inspire their elders to explore future. Additionally, very few people of any age consistently ask what the new tools can do IN COMBINATION.”

We welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Communications Management during the BP Oil Spill Response – a report

Gulf Oil Spill

Posted by Claire B. Rubin

This long paper  (60 pp.) re communications used during the Oil Spill via the PIER system may be of interest to readers, since it discusses the use of the Internet and new media. Usually in our blogs we quote primary sources or use traditional media sources for our postings. In this case the paper was written by a principal at a commercial firm, which owns the software. I cannot fully assess either its content (out of my league) or its veracity. Nevertheless, I thought it was worth calling attention to it and inviting readers to analyze and discuss it. Details follow:

Gerald Baron, Pier Founder and Exec. VP, O’Briens Response Management. Unending Flow; Case Study on Communications in Gulf Oil Spill, Oct. 6, 2010. 60 pp. You will have to sign in and request a copy from the O’Brien’s website .  See especially, Section I: Internet Use, Section 2:Media Management, and Coverage and the final Conclusion: Major Lessons Learned.

Among his concluding comments are the topics:  The nature of media and social media revealed, an uncertain future for the concept of a ‘single voice’ in multi-agency response, and unnecessary erosion of public trust.”

We welcome feedback from users on these topics.

Are emergency response organizations dropping the social media “ball”?

Post by: Kim Stephens
Recently, I ran across two seemingly unrelated articles regarding disasters and social media and the thing that struck me was that first response organizations are not delivering information through social media as effectively as volunteers–some of which have virtually zero emergency management or disaster communications experience. This leads to several questions, but I do not have the answers:

  • Will response organizations rely on volunteers to curate information from now on, or will they feel the need to add staff  to complete these tasks?
  • Will the public somehow lose trust in government organizations that don’t provide timely information that seems easily obtained elsewhere?
  • Will government agencies utilize existing social media and crisis mapping tools or feel compelled to pay contractors to create unique applications? [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=natural+gas+pipeline+explosion&iid=9734854″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

The first article by Gary Oldham from the blog Wingineering, titled Twitter to the Rescue–Social Media’s Evolving Role in Disasters, provides a very good description of Twitter’s usefulness in disseminating valuable information during three recent disasters: the New Zealand Earthquake, the Colorado Wildfires, and the natural gas pipeline explosion in California. However, in most instances, response officials were “out-tweeted” by volunteers.  While acknowledging the use of social media by local public safety organizations, he points out:

“…but of course not all agencies use Twitter in this manner yet, and in some instances, may simply be too overwhelmed in the immediacy of dealing with mitigating the disaster to use social media in the evolving stages of the disaster.”

During the Colorado wildfires he mentions a handful of people, in no way related to any response organization, that curated the information from police and fire scanners–sometimes listening for hours on end, and also from other twitter feeds (e.g. offers of aid), and then tweeted or re-tweeted that information to their followers.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=pakistan+floods&iid=9759063″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /] The other example  is from a world away in Pakistan. An article in Wired magazine titled: “Pakistan Aid Groups Route Around U.S. Military for Relief Web” describes how volunteer-created crisis maps are used more by non-governmental organizations than the military’s “connection tool” called HARMONIEweb. The author noted that most NGOs working in Pakistan were not even aware that HARMONIEweb existed much less had participated in any of its forums or “chats.”  Instead NGO’s are relying on social media curated by volunteers like Sohaib Khan, a computer-science professor at the Lahore University of Management Scientists, [who] put together a widget  called Floodmaps that relies on Google Earth and Google Maps to track the path of the flood and monitor devastation like washed-out bridges that need to be rebuilt.”

Another group called Pakreport is involved in crisis mapping and information curation and is “staffed” with “an impromptu collection of Pakistani technologist and their mostly-American academic friends.”

  • Pakreport uses the Ushahidi mapping platform to display data gathered from  SMS text messages sent to the number 3441. “[f]lood-stricken Pakistanis can find their emergency information tracked by type and location, giving official and independent aid agencies a view into the evolving landscape of people’s needs.”

Crisiscommons is also active in this disaster, as they were in the response to the Haitian earthquake. Led by co-founder Heather Blanchard, a former DHS employee, a wiki page has been employed as a “connection tool” for survivors, volunteers located in-country and volunteers located thousands of miles away. Their resources page has an exhaustive list of resources, including Pakreport and Floodmaps, that address these questions: [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=pakistan+floods&iid=9741639″ src=”″ width=”234″ height=”153″ /]

  • Where can I find out who needs my help?
  • Where can I find people to help me deliver aid?
  • Where can I find out information?
  • How do I find out if I’m about to be flooded?
  • Who should I alert/give my information to?
  • Where can I find general information out about #pkfloods?
  • Where can I search for people? (I cannot find my grandmother/relative)
  • I have been ‘found’ – who should I alert/give my status to?
  • I need food/water/supplies, how can I tell people I need something?
  • I have food/water/supplies, how can I find out where there’s a need?
  • I want to get to location x, where can I find out about the state of the roads?
  • I am observing/know the state of the roads, who should I alert/give my information to?
  • How can I find out where there are information blackspots/there is no telecomms coverage?
  • I know where the telecoms/information blackspots are, who should I give my alert/information to and how?

Tellingly, the list of resources does not include the HARMONIEweb site.
So, what’s the point?  It seems to me that the military is recreating the wheel for use in international humanitarian missions, while in the U.S., some local governments don’t seem to know the wheel exists.

The Wired article sums up this potential problem:

“U.S. forces in Pakistan have a few Web 2.0 tools of their own. But there’s a serious digital divide between the military and civilian tools. The armed forces’ efforts are pretty rudimentary, in comparison. They haven’t yet plugged in these independent Wiki creators and collaborative mapmakers — and may never.”

Relevant Research – articles from ISCRAM 2010

Posted by Claire

The Proceedings are now available from the 7th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM).  The conference theme was Defining Crisis Management 3.0 and featured topics such as: Collaboration and Social Networking; Geo-Information Support, and Humanitarian Challenges. These research papers are a significant contribution, in my view, in that may become the foundation of new efforts in the coming years.

The Proceedings (45 pp.)  include both abstracts and full text of papers delivered), May 2010. The  proceedings are available here ISCRAM2010 -Proceedings or can be downloaded from

Social Media – all enteprises can use them

Social media are being used by public, non-profit and for profit enterprises.  In the ZDNet blog called Enterprise Web 2.0, an article titled Made on the Web, designed by us , August 17, provides some interesting examples of how small businesses use social media.

With a new survey showing that the majority of people on the Web are willing to co-create, crowdsourcing is looking like a repeatable, reliable way to outsource work and partner with online communities to create concrete results. Crowdsourcing has become increasingly attractive to small businesses as well as enterprises. Yet this category remains stubbornly in the experimentation phase even as some firms start racking up significant wins. Here are the pros and cons of this approach as well as how companies get started in what is shaping up to be one of the most significant new approaches to global business in this century

With crowdsourcing, how we produce ideas and work in the 21st century will be very different indeed.

Social Media are getting some respect

Posted by Claire B. Rubin

Emergency Social Data Summit Highlights the Role of Social Media During Crises. Huffington Post, August 16. This article provides some useful segments of the presentations as well as a summary of the conference.

Last week, the Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit in Washington, D.C. presented strong evidence that social media has grown up. Hearing those digital cries for help  now means listening to what people say and share on Twitter, Facebook and crowdsourcing platforms like Ushahidi, and then reacting. “We can no longer afford to work at the speed of government, said BrianHumphrey  … [with] he Los Angeles Fire Department….

New research from the Red Cross …shows that Web users increasingly rely on social media to seek help in a disaster. “As social media becomes more a part of our daily lives, people are turning to it during emergencies as well,” said FEMA Adminstrator Fugate.  “We need to utilize these tools, to the best of our abilities, to engage and inform the public, because no matter how much federal, state and local officials do, we will only be successful if the public is brought in as part of the team.”

New Media = Good Government (?)

posted by Claire B. Rubin

Your Pass To Good Government, Newsweek, August 16. The byline to this article is:  “Skip the lines, forget about bribes. E-gov gives anyone with  a web connection direct access to public services.”

The assumption that the speed of the message/request arriving via new digital media will be matched by the speed of the response or delivery of services is, in my view, a serious mistake.  The ability of government agencies to collect, analyze and act on requests arriving via new media is no greater than it was via the traditional means. It might even be slower, since agency personnel need to monitor additional new media to collect the requests.

Red Cross Features Use of Social Media for Disasters

As people in distress turn to Twitter, the Red Cross seeks the most efficient ways to respond, Wash Post August 12.

On Thursday, the Red Cross will lead a discussion at its headquarters in downtown Washington with emergency-response leaders, technology experts and at least one social media swami to try to sort through the challenges of coordinating response to floods of real-time information. “We’ll have 100 people live-blogging in the [Hall of Service], in the same place where people were rolling bandages during the first world war,” said Gail McGovern, president and chief executive of the Red Cross.

Some 70 percent of those responding to the Red Cross survey said emergency agencies should be monitoring social media.

Prior to the conference, the Red Cross conducted a major survey, the full results of which are available here. There are some significant findings here for the emergency management community, and we recommend that readers access the full report.

The two divas who write this blog attended the conference.  This “summit” conference was in fact was a major gathering of key persons engaged in cutting edge social media projects.  A video stream of the conference and copies of the papers provided will be on their conference blog site noted here.