Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably have at least heard of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Many of you probably already have a Facebook account and, like me, update your status a few times a day. The extreme popularity of social networking sites is based on a very fundamental human need—a need to reach out to people, make a connection with friends and family, share special interests that include music, pictures, an interesting article you’ve read or simply tell other interested parties about what’s going on in your life. In other words, we have a basic need to share information.
While social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace cater to the non-serious, casual side of information sharing, the technology that has enabled sites like these to proliferate (namely Web 2.0) can and, in fact, is being used for serious information sharing as well. For example, it’s being used for information sharing during or after major disasters.
In today’s world, where speed is measured by how soon you can update your Facebook status, traditional news media such as TV, radio, and newspapers fall woefully short of quick information sharing. In traditional news media, there are simply too many nodes that a particular piece of news has to go through before it can be broadcast. This results in the frustrating outcome that by the time the news reaches the general public, reality has already changed. In addition, the distribution of news is always centralized to the particular news organization in question—be it a TV or radio channel, or the newspaper agency. They give and we receive.
The advent of Web 2.0 technologies has threatened this old relic of one-way flow of information by making the sharing and dissemination of important information completely “democratic” and quick.
Several companies today, including IEM, have developed social networking-based web applications specifically for information sharing and collaboration among the general population for disaster management and response. IEM’s Cahooots is an excellent example of such a social-networking based application. Instead of relying on news agencies to give up-to-date information during a disaster, Cahooots allows people on the ground witnessing an ongoing disaster to instantly post information that they can then share with whomever they wish. In other words, Cahooots makes information completely democratic and confers on every interested individual the status of a citizen journalist.
It is also self-correcting in the sense that as new information comes in from different witnesses, past information can get updated to reflect the most accurate reality. Put another way, Cahooots is the new way of collaborating, sharing, and gaining information, knowledge, and intelligence in a more efficient and rapid manner.
Our most recent endeavors is creating a real time GIS map covering the Gulf Coast oil spill. Share your information about the BP Gulf Coast Oil spill by posting to any of the existing channels or create your own channel. As citizens of this world, we can all make a difference by being our own conscientious reporters and sharers of knowledge.
Author: Dr. Neeraj Mainkar, Physicist/Manager, Software Development