Katrina’s Impact on Tech

Technology is not immune to the world around it.

And so it has been interesting to watch how technologists have reacted to Katrina.

The first reactions were similar to everyone else’s – shock, disbelief, anger, frustration, incredible sadness.

But then the tinkerer and problem solver instinct kicks in and the hacker ethic takes over.

I have watched this incredible outpouring of energy develop over Katrina and the cleanup and restoration process that will come in its wake.

This post is not meant to be comprehensive as there are so many efforts that nobody can really keep track of all of them.

But here are some links to examples.

Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog – I linked to Brian Oberkirch’s effort to keep track of developments in and around Slidell last week. I am certain that there are hundreds of efforts like this all around the stricken area.  Thank god for blogs, bloggers, and the communication tools that we all have become good at using.  They came in handly and will continue to come in handy for weeks and months to come as the clean up takes hold.

People Finder Wiki – This one was linked to by BoingBoing and I know a few people who are volunteering their time keeping it up and running.  I have seen a few other wikis that were created for similar purposes.  Obviously people power and peer economies are great tools to use in a disaster like this one.  And wikis are about the best tool out there to harness people power.

Craigslist New Orleans – A few big web services took it upon themselves to provide critical services like missing people finders, information on relief resources, temporary housing, etc.  Craigslist is providing a great service for people right now.

Katrina VOIP – As far as I know, its not being done yet, but someone should, and fast.

These are but a few examples, but I like to keep my posts reasonably short so they get read instead of skimmed.

The fact is that technology can provide a lot of important solutions to disasters like Katrina and there is no shortage of people in the technology business providing them in bits and pieces right now.

Jeff Jarvis has a really good post up calling for a meeting or conference to develop plans for building better tools for something like this.  He lists many more efforts than I have and if you want a more comprehensive view of this issue, go read Jeff’s post.

I personally don’t think we need a conference. I think web services will get built and the best ones will come out on top.  People will integrate them and we’ll have something that works very well the next time we get hit by something like this.

We have seen that some important things don’t work.  Phone service for one.  And we know that a virtual, Internet based phone system would work better.  So we’ll get that.  I guarantee it.  It might take some time, but its coming because people see that the old system let them down and will want a better one.

People finding is another important thing that doesn’t work yet.  I was incredibly frustrated last week pouring through the message board built by the local Slidell TV station looking for friends of my father in law.  There was no structure to the messages.  The data was essentially text messages with no way to search them, no way to syndicate them, no way to merge them, no way to close the loop, etc, etc.  So we need a standard for people finding.  There is apparently one that is being worked on.  There are probably others.  My bet is we’ll get a good one, it will get implemented by all the important web services from Google, to Craigslist, to the Slidell TV station, and we’ll be better off.

These are two areas where I am certain something important will happen that will have a lasting impact on technology.  I am equally certain there are others.

The one thing we don’t need is the government trying to manadate what needs to get built and hiring some company that was formerly run by the Vice President to do it.  I think we can take care of ourselves a lot better than the government can.  If anything, the past week has shown that to be true now more than ever.

Technologists/geeks/hackers whatever you want to call us are human beings and are impacted like everyone else by this terrible disaster. Our reaction is to fix stuff and make it better.  And we will do that.  I am sure of it.