It’s a tragic occurrence happening too often. A bomb goes off, a wave washes over a city or a hurricane slams hard into a fragile coastline.
But, man-made or natural, these disasters are sparking some creative minds to mashup web tools into something remarkable, emotionally gripping - and they’re not found on mainstream media or government sites.
Along the way, they are defining new forms of storytelling beyond pictures and stories, improvising with technology and offering a glimpse of a possible new dimension of citizen journalism.
Web 2.0 meet citizen journalism
On Wednesday, according to Wired News, Johnathon Mendez and Greg Stoll launched the Katrina Information Map. Using the Google Maps’ API, they were able to code up in a few hours a means for ordinary citizens to post or search information about the flood.
Mendez, a 24-year-old programmer living in Austin, Texas, says he grew frustrated with combing message boards for news of his family’s home. That’s when he contacted Stoll about his idea.
At first glance, the site might be easy to overlook. It appears far more prosaic than it is. But, amid the tear-shaped pointers are some wrenching details of the hurricane’s destructive power and its stagnant aftermath.
Such a site could represent a new avenue of citizen journalism where people enlist sophisticated web services to enable citizens to better inform and aid each other. (Adrian Holovaty’s chicagocrime.org also comes to mind.)
"I’ve been reading stories about how journalism is going to the people in cases like this, so I figured this might pick up well from that, but at the same time, I had no idea how big it would get.”The trouble with collaboration - is people
— Jonathan Mendez
The Katrina Map could be improved by adding an easier way to flag inappropriate or bad information. We thought it also might have been helpful to add an overlay of the hurricane’s track.
But for few hours work, it’s one of the most impressive Katrina sites the web.
And, it’s something you won’t see from FEMA or a news agency. (Though, the AP actually created a sophisticated interactive map it does not allow people to post information to it.)
Related: Net offers map help after the flood (BBC)
A dissimilar but perhaps complementary effort has been promoted by PES, another open source group that concentrates on alternative energy. It is a site dedicated to bringing together Katrina evacuees and people who are able and willing to help re-locate one or more families, at least temporarily, until they can return or, if they wish, to integrate them in a new social context if they do not wish to return. See