More on the role of Twitter and Texting in Generating Crisis Data

A few months ago, I was interviewed by Danish newspaper Information about Twitter, microblogging, blogs and their relationship to journalism. One of the things I commented on was how I'd observed eyewitness accounts of the violence in Gaza and the recent riots in Oslo spreading through the network via Twitter. The same thing had supposedly also happened during the siege in Mumbai, though that slipped my mind at the time.

This morning, I watched this intriguing video of a short (> 5 mins) talk by Erik Hersman. It gave the answer to one of the things I've been thinking about, namely the enormous problem of how to sort the data that's being generated in a crisis. The first thing people do in a crisis is to reach out to their loved ones, supplying and sharing information, generating rumours and trying to make sense of the crisis phenomenon. The amount of data generated in a crisis very quickly becomes too big to collate and review. Just when you need the data the most, there is too much of it.

Now, the team that Hersman is a part of has built a GoogleMaps mashup that allows you to post data to a centralised map. It has already worked in Kenya, Mumbai and during the recent terror bombing of the civilian population in Gaza.

The next step will be to create a crowdsourced noise filter: harnessing people to rate and sort information. Very clever trick, which will reduce the rumour mill, because another thing that always happens in crises is that unfounded rumours spring up out of nowhere.

I do, however, foresee a problem. This system is going to work a hell of a lot better in crises that aren't generated by other humans. If there is an Earthquake in Los Angeles, this system will help. But what about the bombing of Gaza? In the bombing of Gaza there are two sides both trying to take control of the information. There would be an information war conducted through systems such as this one. Israeli and Palestinian agents would both be actively trying to boost information that favours their side. Therefore, the system would lose part of its meaning. But surely this idea is a spectacularly good one. Watch the talk, it's short and interesting:

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Blogger suttonhoo said...

brilliant antidote to this little burst of hysteria from CNN »

April 27, 2009 3:59 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Wow! That IS hysterical. As though Twitter was the thing generating the speed of our culture. And as though, if genocide happens REALLY FAST, you won't think it's wrong.

April 27, 2009 8:01 am  
Blogger suttonhoo said...

lol -- right.

as if Twitter were more cultural agency than artifact.

it's really curious to me how people *freak out* over Twitter. there's something interesting sociologically there, just not yet sure what it is.

April 29, 2009 2:32 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

In Norway, at least, I think it has something to do with the inherent young, hip, professional middle-classness of the phenomenon. Class hate gets into it. If the rich kids are doing it, it must be wrong. I feel like I'm watching a rerun of cellphone rejection back in the late 90s: "I wouldn't dream of carrying one of those things around in my pocket. They're despicable, and who wants to be connected 24-7 anyway. We forget what real relationships to other human beings are like."

Then, of course, cell phones went mainstream and it turns out that being connected to other human beings that you have real relationships with 24-7 is a good thing.

April 29, 2009 4:09 pm  

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