Keeping people connected

Kate Giles
I find Facebook is a great way to keep in touch. I use it to send messages to many faraway friends. One of the first online communities began back in 1997. Since then we have seen sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter become very popular. Information can spread to millions of people very quickly. The tools are particularly useful during emergencies. Social networks can enable people to get the help they need. Technology is also being used in other ways to make the world a better place.
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Kate Giles on 06/05/2011
A Horsham street completely underwater, cutting off access to nearby buildings.

Many Victorians were isolated during the recent floods

I find Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with people. Right there on my computer is the good, the bad and the ugly of each person's day.

Last night there were photos of our niece's adventure in Italy. She is having a wonderful time judging by her comments. I also chatted for a while to a friend in Cambodia. Life isn't easy for him at the moment. But I was able to add my support alongside others. Meanwhile, another friend is delighted with a new CD. He is sharing songs with everyone. Another friend is caught up in floods in Thailand. I am continually checking my social networks for further information on her situation. Finally, tonight I will have my weekly chat to the grandkids.

Online community

One of the first online communities began in 1997. It was called for American entrepreneur Andrew Weinreich built a platform to connect people through the internet. Weinreich says the idea came about through meeting people you don't know through the people you do know. The name came from the idea that anyone in the world can be reached through a link via six other people.

In the following years, sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have become important to millions of people's lives. We also now have the DiVine online community. These sites are places where we can share with one another. They are also becoming more than just keeping people with common interests connected.

Information in an instant

Social networking sites allow many people to have a voice. They also allow information to become available to millions of other people in an instant. In times of crisis, social networks have major benefits. Social networks proved invaluable after the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. They were also widely used during the floods in Victoria and Queensland.

A good example is people using Twitter after the Japanese earthquake. Trapped or injured people used Twitter to alert emergency services. Organisations also used Twitter to spread information like health advice, offers of assistance and evacuation orders.

Millions of people also flocked to Facebook after the Japanese disaster. A Global Disaster Relief page on Facebook was established after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It highlights emergency response activities around the world.

Technology for good

More and more organisations are now looking at how technology can bring people together around the world for good. An example is Random Hacks of Kindness. It grew out of a panel discussion which included IT experts from around the world. The partnership includes technology rivals Microsoft, Yahoo and Google. It also includes NASA and The World Bank.

In an emergency, Random Hacks of Kindness has "crisis camps". The camps bring together disaster management and crisis response teams with volunteer software developers and designers. People work together to devise the most effective technology solutions to assist in disaster response.

Assist in an emergency

Tweak the Tweet is one product of Random Hacks of Kindness. Kate Starbird is from the Alliance of Technology Learning and Society in Colorado. Ms Starbird says the idea takes advantage of the public nature of Twitter and available tools to filter and collect tweets. It seeks to allow users to inform the public of disaster-related information within their normal Twitter communication patterns, she says.

Google Person Finder is another way technology is being used to assist in an emergency. It is a registry and message board for survivors, family and loved ones affected by a natural disaster. People can post and search for information about each other's status and whereabouts. Google Person Finder for Japan was launched less than an hour after the recent earthquake struck.

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