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5/1/2008
12:35 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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In Emergencies, People Turn To Web 2.0, Not Traditional News

When danger is at their door, people turn to social media sites, blogs, and instant messages, rather than the mainstream news media, for necessary information. Twitter and Google mashups in particular prove far more useful than traditional government channels, according to a report prepared at the University of Colorado. I learned that the hard way myself last year.

When danger is at their door, people turn to social media sites, blogs, and instant messages, rather than the mainstream news media, for necessary information. Twitter and Google mashups in particular prove far more useful than traditional government channels, according to a report prepared at the University of Colorado. I learned that the hard way myself last year.The Telegraph reports on how people used social media during two emergencies: The Virginia Tech mass-murder, and last year's Southern California wildfires:

During the California fires, Web users on sites including instant messaging forum Twitter kept friends and neighbours informed of their condition, minute by minute.

They also used Google Maps to track the progress of the fire and mark areas where schools and businesses were closed.

However, the authorities struggled to display the sufficient up-to-date information.

The mass media were unreliable, the study found, as they struggled to access remote areas from which Web site users with an Internet connection could easily report.

Media sites also focused on the 'sensational', such as fires close to celebrities' homes, which distorted the overall picture, the scientists said.

Via Read/Write Web

My wife and I live in San Diego, we've been here 11 years, and we've lived through two really bad wildfire seasons, both of which threatened to force us to evacuate. In the latest round, this past October, I found TV news had limited usefulness, but Twitter and Google Maps were great for getting the most important information into my hands rapidly. That information being: How close are the wildfires to our house?

I wrote about my use of Twitter and Google Maps a couple of days after the event: Google Maps And Twitter Are Essential Information Resources For California Fires:

The immediate threat seems to have passed for my wife and me here in San Diego, as fires ravage Southern California. But it's still essential for us to keep an eye on the situation. The TV news is first-rate for getting an overview. But Google Maps and Twitter provide a running answer to the question that's most important to me and my wife: Is our neighborhood and our house in any immediate danger?

Yesterday, I posted a brief roundup of Internet resources for the Southern California fires. They're all useful links. But I've devoted 98% of my Internet attention to Google Maps and Twitter.

Google Maps helps when I hear the name of a community that's been evacuated, and want to know where it is in relationship to our neighborhood. We've been living in San Diego 10 years, and I still don't know where the overwhelming majority of neighborhoods are. How far away are we from Valley Center? Spring Valley? When I hear the name of a community that's been evacuated, I type it into Google Maps and then get driving directions to our house. That gives me a general idea of the straight-line distance between that community and our neighborhood. If driving route is particularly circuitous, Google Maps lets me draw my own route by hand, and keep track of the mileage.

The TV news seemed focused (as the Telegraph notes) on celebrity gossip, and also "human-interest" stories, which basically consisted of interviewing people who'd been evacuated from their homes and asking them how they felt about it. (Answer: They didn't really care for it.)

I've stuck with the habit of reading KPBS's Twitter feed, and yesterday morning I learned that San Diego fire officials say conditions are ripe for a very bad fire season this year -- even worse than last year. Oy.

And now for the obligatory self-promotion: You have two options for subscribing to InformationWeek headlines on Twitter: http://twitter.com/informationweek is an automated feed of all IW's blog and article headlines, while http://twitter.com/iwpicks contains headlines and links to only the best InformationWeek articles and blogs, laboriously updated a couple of times a day by yours truly.

We're also on FriendFeed and all over Facebook: We have a fan page, and several applications: News, Blogs, and the TechWeb Digital Library, which provides a feed of our white papers.

And, finally, I have personal accounts on Twitter and FriendFeed. Friend me and I'll friend you back.

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