I’ve written a post on the Scraperwiki blog about a hackathon I attended where a small group of developers and people with experience of crowdsourcing in emergencies created a fantastic tool to inform populations in an emergency.
The primary application is non-journalistic, but the subject matter has obvious journalistic potential for any event that requires exchanges of information. Here are just some that spring to mind:
- A protest where protestors and local residents can find out where it is at that moment and what streets are closed.
- A football match with potential for violence (i.e. local derby) where supporters can be alerted of any trouble and what routes to use to avoid it.
- A music festival where you could text the name of the bands you want to see and receive alerts of scheduled appearances and any delays
- A conference where you could receive all the above – as well as text updates on presentations that you’re missing (taken from hashtagged tweets, even)
There are obvious commercial applications for some of the above too – you might have to register your mobile ahead of the event and pay a fee to ensure you receive the texts.
Not bad for 15 hours’ work.
You can read the blog post in full here.
The crowdalert app sounds like a fantastic piece of work in a short space of time – and certainly one that has a myriad of potential uses, not just by media covering public emergencies.
My question is whether anything that relies on SMS will be reliable enough during, and in the immediate aftermath of, major incidents, given the overload and regular failure of mobile networks in those situations (e.g.London 7/7).
We’ve had the tragic Black Saturday fires (Feb 2009) in Australia where, again, mobile phone networks either could not cope with the volume or (as in many cases here) the main transmitters were destroyed. The authorities are experimenting with SMS alerts in advance of major risk days.
But one of the most innovative things I witnessed during the days that followed was the way one of the media sites used CoverItLive. They turned it into an online equivalent of the yellow sticky note board, to help connect people (from all around the world) with information on the whereabouts of the missing. It was deluged with thousands of msgs to and from members of the public. The journalists couldn’t keep pace with moderation. Eventually, a handful of users self-moderated and kept the board flowing – a cross between wiki, microblog and IM. Anything that can help connect and reassure people in those desperate situations is a truly worthwhile tool.
A really good point – thanks. Will pass that on to the team.
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