Sunday, January 9, 2005


HatTip to Thomas. I couldn't find the original link, so I'm post the whole thing. I hope Doug Tsuruoka doesn't mind.

Web Logs Are Bringing Relief In Wake Of Tidal Wave Disaster

Wedesday, January 5, 2005
by Doug Tsuruoka

Bloggers are coming to the rescue in the wake of South Asia's deadly tsunami.

Deaths from the disaster continue to rise. But ordinary citizens around the world are using blogs -- short for Web logs -- to spread the word about conditions in the region and relief efforts.

Blogs are personal online journals that can cover just about anything. They've grown in prominence because they often have a unique perspective or provide news that regular media miss.

As word of the tsunami spread, blogs took on a new role. Bloggers in affected areas posted firsthand accounts of what was going on. And they told people how to pitch in.

"We decided our focus would be to tell people all over the world how they could help, where they could go and which organizations were taking relief," said Zig Zackly, who started the biggest tsunami blog, called South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami, or SEA-EAT.

The consultant and former journalist in Bombay, India, launched the blog on Dec. 28 -- two days after the tidal wave struck -- with a few computer-savvy friends.

"Within a week, well over 200, probably close to 300 people had pitched in from all over the world (to help run the blog)," Zackly said.

The volunteers posted hard-to-get information from all nations in the tsunami area. "We had close to a million hits from all over the world on our blog site in one week," said Zackly. "But it was probably more than that -- the visitor counter was busted. The servers were overwhelmed by the stuff that was coming in. The site collapsed twice."

Bloggers provided extensive Web links to charities and various nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. They also published firsthand photos of the devastation and encouraged dialogue by getting readers to post e-mail responses.

The blogs also helped fill a bit of a media void, since many regular news outlets had smaller staffs during the Christmas-New Year holidays. Some were also slow to recognize the seriousness of the disaster and get news out.

By Wednesday, Dec. 29, three days after the tsunami hit, there had been 55,000 tsunami-related blog posts. And by Jan. 4, that number had risen to 73,300, says, a Web site that tracks blog activity.

Bloggers in India, the U.S. and Malaysia were among the most active.

Take Rhino's Blog, for instance. Written by Gary Rhine, a 53-year-old documentary filmmaker in California, it featured a range of tsunami information and links.

Rhine listed toll-free numbers that let readers donate to the American Friends Service Committee and Doctors Without Borders.

"My wife and I raised $20,000 for (tsunami-related) medical supplies through the blog and friends and relatives," Rhine said.

The reaction to the disaster has shown the strength of the Web community, bloggers say.

The SEA-EAT blog was sponsored by Google's (NasdaqNM:GOOG - News) free Blogspot online service. In an unusual move, Google worked to ensure that the site had "unlimited bandwidth" as its traffic rocketed, Zackly says.

The search service also created a link between Google's tsunami Web page and SEA-EAT.

The SEA-EAT blog was notable for the huge detail it provided on the disaster. It included hundreds of Web pages of information.

For example, there were province-by-province breakdowns of the dead, displaced and injured and the status of rescue operations in individual districts of Sri Lanka. Part of the blog dealt with missing persons in the tsunami area -- especially foreign tourists -- and provided family contact numbers for people who had information on the missing.

To help spread vital data, SEA-EAT volunteers sorted through the information on the blog and put it into a "wiki" news file on the Wikinews server.

Wikinews -- a service put out by Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia -- lets anyone report news on a wide range of subjects.

"The beauty of (SEA-EAT) is that it's become worldwide in the space of just one week," Zackly said. "People are collaborating from all over the world and are working in shifts to keep the blog going."

Jock Gill, who runs a new media consulting business called in Boston, says the blogger response to the tsunami is admirable. But there's much more to do.

The South Asian tsunami is a one-time event, he notes, while millions in Africa and elsewhere have suffered for years from AIDS, war, famine and other horrors. Bloggers have yet to fully address these sorts of long-term problems, he says.

"The question is: Can blogs help us invent a new form of person-to-person development assistance that works with government and NGO efforts to create new solutions to these problems?" he said.

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