Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

Happy Birthday from Facebook

In social media on June 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

On my birthday I’d like to begin by thanking everyone for the best wishes that I have received today. They actually started coming in yesterday because some of my facebook friends live in New Zealand and Australia where tomorrow comes a lot sooner than it does in the United States thanks to time zones.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a small child a couple years ago now. Knowing that it was my birthday he asked whether I was going to have a party. I think he was hoping for cake and presents. And at his age that’s exactly what I was hoping for too (I was also hoping not to have any type of final test on my birthday, an experience that only ceased once I finished an turned in my dissertation, ON MY BIRTHDAY). But, as we all know, as you get older, you don’t tend to have parties and celebrate with a lot of people. And that’s just fine.

But, I do like the best wishes from facebook. Just to hear from, and give out, little “happy birthday’s” and to know that they come from friends, family, colleagues at GT, former colleagues, my invisible college of professional colleagues, people I went to kindergarten with, and more generally the mix of people who represent the sum of my life experiences makes my day. I appreciate the time given. I also appreciate all the different memories that it recreates for me. I thought about walking to kindergarten, about my life in University and the people I met there (faculty, staff and students), the warmth of Southern California, a chance meeting in Metz, a committee in which I learnt a lot about leadership, about those people who’ve written recommendations for me and reviews of my work and encouraged me to be better, and about family old, and acquired. All of these thoughts and more triggered by the best wishes of others.

So thank you for the best wishes and thank you for the memories of y’all. I figure that’s a really good replacement for jelly and ice-cream. And besides I always was a bit crap at pin the tail on the donkey.


Perspectives on Work Time

In France, HCI on May 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

I’ve just re-read Amy Bruckman’s, post about facebook and other social media. She’s arguing, at least in my reading, that the time it takes to check Facebook, twitter etc. during the day is taking up more of her time than she wants. Another colleague of mine, Phoebe Sengers, recently wrote an article in Interactions magazine about how her time spent on Change Islands, Newfoundland, Canada, made her reflect on the values that she brings to her work and life. In the face of very different methods and beliefs about how a day should be lived, she found herself reflecting on the values of efficiency and productivity in her life.

Perspectives on how we value the way in which time is spent.

And I keep pondering them both together. How should I balance my day, how to I prioritize my time. What does it meant to prioritize time? To feel guilt when the results of that prioritization can not be seen in accomplishments. And I admit that sometimes instead of working I just want to read the daily pulses that are the lives and interests of my friends.

Of course the very fact I am prioritizing my time, that I am viewing my day as consisting of chunks that need allocating is its own value system. This reminds me of French lunch time. Sometimes when I sit in my office eating a sandwich quickly in order that eating should not take up too much time, I think about how Metz shut down between 12-2 as people took lunch. Perhaps they also ate quickly, but they took a block of time, lunch time, and that was a different temporal space than the work day time.

Twitter Question

In social media on November 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I developed an important portion of my “friending” policy for social media after I made a mistake on flickr. I made a connection to a student in the spirit of having enjoyed my interactions with that student. I didn’t think. A faculty member reaching out meant that the student rapidly reorganized their photographic collection. Thankfully they told me that they had taken these steps. I realised what I had done.

In light of that, my policy w.r.t. to students is that I will friend anyone who seeks me out on social media, as long as I know the person through our shared invisible college, visible college or some other connection. But, I do not reach out. That’s my way of respecting a student’s privacy and not putting them in a situation where they potentially feel they have to edit their content. I guess the counter-argument might be that it means they have to work harder to network with me.

I have a question. Twitter. I am followed by a student whose tweets (which while I do not see in my feed since I do not follow them) I enjoy. Is it appropriate to follow them. If I am followed, may I follow in return? How does that work? What do people feel comfortable with?

Today I friended a robot on Facebook

In research, social media on October 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

A few days ago I received a friend request from Kuka Youbot (not a page, group, and you don’t fan it, it has an account).

Its the first time I’ve had to decide whether to friend a machine on facebook, and I was not sure what to do.

I do not friend people I do not know on Facebook. I have declined requests. Before I decline requests I typically review the person’s information, usually looking for shared friends. That sometimes causes me to realise that there is a possibility that I actually do know the person. This has been most pronounced with people who have changed their names, and this is most common among my female acquaintances who have subsequently married. In just a few cases I have asked our potentially mutual friends who a particular person is, I am constantly impressed how good some people are at recognising a person from an image of them that is twenty years older than when I knew the person face-to-face.

Almost all my Facebook friends are people that I have at one point in my life known as face-to-face friends. Some of my Facebook friends go back as far as kindergarten through all the school and employment affiliations that I’ve had. There are exceptions. I am friends with one English ex-patriate that followed a very similar path (source to destination). I am friends with a family historian who has identified that part of his family and part of mine are connected. We are distant relatives.

I have a policy regarding students. I am happy to friend any graduate/undergraduate who asks me, but I will not ask them. This reflects the power-relation of the environment that we share. I am happy if they feel comfortable being connected to me and reading the random things I post but I can also imagine a degree of discomfort being “forced” to connect to a faculty member when they would prefer to keep what they post to Facebook private from faculty.

I decided to friend the robot. I decided to because it has mutual friends, two of my colleagues in the School of Interactive Computing and the Robotics and Intelligent Machines center. I decided that if the Youbot was something that they would friend, then I would too. They became a recommendation of sorts for making a decision about friending the robot. And since they’re both roboticists I am sure that they have good criteria for selecting which robots to friend and which not.

And it likes that I’ve friended it. How friendly. It also wants to know whether I’m going to IROS and wishes me a happy weekend.

Furloughs: First Person Experience of Social Media in Crisis

In empirical, research, social media on April 23, 2010 at 9:12 am

On Monday April 19th I was on furlough. I had already written about the volcano and the online experiences I had seen. But that was just 24 hours after the eruption had started (and as the disruption was only beginning to become clear). I was also still at the CHI2010 conference, and so it was before the #CHI2010 became #CHIstuck2010 as people ended up stuck here in Atlanta. It was because there were people who ended up stuck in Atlanta that I had written a blog post, a way to disseminate information about Atlanta. So, I was already beginning to explore the social media in crisis space. But largely as a matter of trying to be helpful.

One of the interesting challenges about furlough is that the Institute requires that I do no Institute business during furlough. So, I was at home. It’s not clear to me what the boundaries of “Institute business” are when you are an academic, but I do enjoy not having to respond to email at the same speed. But, what to do on furlough? Suddenly I had this crazy novel idea, what if I tried to spend the day exploring social media in crisis? No, it’s not scientific but I am sure I am not alone when I say that experience is a good place for starting to think about scholarly endeavours. I am in Interactive Computing, and what is Interactive Computing if it is not the myriad of information generated by social media in crisis. Highly interactive, highly responsive, oh yeah, it’s got it all going on.

So, while GVU/CHI was working on accommodating our new guests, I decided to channel my advisor’s advice, to experience first hand. I would be a citizen journalist, or a computational journalist. What follows is what I learnt.

Experiences from the volcanic frontier.

I would like to thank the Reykjavik Grapevine for great reporting. It’s very sobering to see the pictures of the volcanic darkness that parts of Iceland are experiencing. But I would also learn that it was very valuable to have a range of sources, in English and not Icelandic, that were local to the scene of the volcano.

April 19 was a “good” choice for a furlough day. It was on April 19 that a new question emerged: Has Hekla erupted or not? Hekla is a volcano somewhat North of Eyjafjallajokull it consumed the twitter stream. My notes as follows:

The Twitter stream #ashtag has been very active and full of conflicting reports about whether a second volcano (for smaller but equally confused discussion follow #hekla). Some are saying that RUV are reporting it has, others are suggesting that the camera RUV had pointed at Hekla had been turned towards Eyjafjallajokull to capture images. You can see how complicated viral media like Twitter are when you look at the #ashtag stream. Google News has yet, when I last checked, to pick up any of this (either way, or the apparent confusion now generated). I have absolutely no idea how to confirm this. I thought about turning to the Icelandic state media but I can’t find them because I don’t know a) whether they exist and b) how to google for that in Icelandic, and then also (because I grew up in the UK) the BBC. I’ve now decided that perhaps waiting on Google News might work, seeing how much of the yes/no they pick up. So far, BBC and Google News remain silent, while #ashtag is off the charts in terms of numbers of tweets around this confusion, and MSNBC seemed to pick it up and now seem to have dropped the story (at least the difference between the two times I visited their home page).

Now, just a couple of hours later that meme seems to have passed, Google News and the BBC still remain silent, and a couple of people I see on Facebook have removed their Hekla posts, and it still seems to have disappeared from MSNBC). AShtag is still going strong, but I think it’s calmed substantially from earlier.

Now the Reykjavik Grapevine is advising that Hekla has not blown, but rather the camera pointed at Hekla has been rotated to focus on Eyjafjallajokull.

And now the Huffington Post reports on the initially false twitter reports. Some people on twitter are also discussing how Twitter self-corrected pretty quickly. How good is good enough seems like an interesting question here.

One reason I camped out on the twitter stream, on several tags, was to take information and retweet it to the #chistuck2010 tag which people stuck after attending CHI were following. Initially I was putting it into my blog, but that became increasingly time consuming. It was also a challenge to switch among the various streams, there was so much information coming in so quickly. I felt constantly behind. I started following various twitterers including the airlines, NATS. In fact I was surprised by how many institutions have twitter accounts. Time passed as I worked on trying to sift and filter information and get it to the right place. A substantial proportion was also devoted to deciding that yes that information was correct. So, I now understand the nature of the work, the nature of critical thinking that is required… and perhaps not everyone does critically think, but I was struck by the discussions of information quality and accuracy that I saw.

Other responses to the situation that’s now into it’s 5th day have focused on humour. It’s not just in Iceland that people have been laughing at how hard it is for non-Icelandic people to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. It’s also in New York: we got it too. Fortunately, one Icelandic person has set the name to song, that helps. Other forms of humour (which I can only assume were partially a stress relief) included some tag lines that were quite popular on the tweet stream.

  • Put bag w/30B euros in unmarked bills by gate of Icelandic embassy in London & we’ll turn off volcano
  • We said send cash not ash
  • The dying wish of Iceland’s economy was to have its ashes scattered over Europe.
  • I’m no volcanologist but has anyone tried throwing in a few virgins?
  • Save the planet? Planet must be saying, “Save yourself idiots, I will be fine”
  • Red moon at night, Vulcanologist’s delight.
  • Just been to Iceland. They have a special offer on Ash Browns.
  • I trust everyone is learning to spell Eyjafjallajokull for this week’s pub quizzes

And then of course people had to generate accounts for the volcanos and the ash cloud.

  • @theashcloud: an account that tweeted :The Ash Cloud is a little worried that because I am not from the EU my dust will not be allowed to settle in the UK”, and later “You think I’m bad. Have you seen Björk when she’s pissed?” and then of course “The Ash Cloud is wondering…is grey the new black?It’s always been my color anyway!”
  • but there was also a competing icelandashcloud
  • (who is apparently a lava not a fighter)
  • (a volcano which has a history of erupting alongside Eyjafjallajokull but is, thankfully, quiet for now)

Another set of responses invoked the Second World War.

Of course this reflects my orientation to the English language tweet stream (although oddly I find 140 characters helps me read French and German tweets also). Dan Snow, a BBC reporter lead a small D-Day like effort to retrieve Britons stuck in France. The Daily Mail picked it up as: “Operation volcano! Navy armada ready to pick up thousands of stranded Britons after France scuppers DIY rescue mission”. But others reported far more personal accounts, including the following reflection on WWII and two CHI 2010 attendees talked about how they met a WWII veteran who had been captured in the Normandy Landings, and was delayed in returning home by 6 months. As they said not only did it add perspective, but they also commented on how they’d shared this with the BBC via their WiFi connection. They shared it with me via Facebook. Our communications networks do make something of a difference.

Another thing I found interesting about the references to WWII was that the lived experience of WWII is increasingly limited. I can’t quite put my finger on why that matters, but I find it curious.

Some of the pictures that have been shared, and commented on, talk about the remarkable beauty in all the danger (and frustration). I include some here: Group 1Northern Lights, Group 2, Group 3.

So, I also asked myself what are people doing? Rideshare is huge. As I tidy this up on April 22, rideshare is still dominating #ashtag and it is an astonishing testament of how many people are displaced at this time. And of course, there’s also the life styles of the rich and famous approach to solving the problem. John Cleese became visible for hiring a taxi home from Norway. And then I saw this on the tweet stream:

There’s a Barcelona taxi outside Gare du Nord in Paris. Someone paid a lot to get here

I said before that this really highlighted how interconnected we are. I followed reports about taking an Atlantic ship home, the Queen Mary 2nd. But the next transatlantic voyage 4.22 is already sold out and the waiting list has more than 1000 people on it. For some reason I’m under the impression that cargo liners can some times take passengers. And then there are the reports of how hard hit industries who rely on air freight are. Kenya’s farmers have been severely impacted by the European flight ban. And because major hubs for international air delivery are located in Germany and France, so the notion that you can get world-wide delivery of items quickly has also been turned on its head. I apologise if this seems like a statement of the obvious, but I can’t help being reminded again of how disruption reveals so much about the silent and invisible work that infrastructure does for us. The airlines play a central role in this. I used to know someone who studied air cargo movements and the ICTs that make this possible, I think of him and Susan Leigh Star again as I write this post. Another person who sums this up well is Peter Greenberg. As did Al Jazeera in a thoughtful report about how we expect what is not local.

And while many are not benefiting, demand for teleconferencing systems has gone way up. Also, environmentalists note that the amount of CO2 that the volcano produced is less than the amount saved by the cessation of flights.

For others it’s an educational opportunity, to discuss Iceland’s volcanoes. Ars Technica has a nice piece. Important to know is that Iceland is not a subduction zone, i.e. one plate not moving beneath another, which is the situation on the West Coast of the U.S. Rather, and I think this is correct, it’s where two plates are moving apart. Look at terrain view of the Atlantic Ocean and you see a long spine of mountains that are roughly in the middle of the Atlantic. Most of them are under the water, but HELLO ICELAND.

And so that’s what I saw and experienced.

Social Media: Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull, Katla, Ash Clouds and Flying

In empirical, European Union, research, social media on April 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Yesterday, a volcano in the Eyjafjallajokull region started erupting. And as reports continue to suggest things might be getting worse, and could have significant long term global implications, my thoughts are with those who are directly impacted by the floods. The volcano started sending up a large ash cloud, up to 55,000 ft into the air. Upper atmosphere winds are now blowing the ash towards Europe. As the ash is sinking (now at 18,000 to 33,000 ft), it’s entering the airspace of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, and progressively others in Northern Europe. Ash and aeroplanes do not mix, instead they get into the engines and can cause them to stop.

Needless to say, social media including Twitter have kicked into high gear as people’s travel plans get altered. I’m attending CHI2010 in Atlanta, and I have heard many discussions about flight delays today among the Europeans who are now stuck in the United States waiting to return home. Flickr has a group that you can contribute: share your images.

I have a few observations.

I think it’s not just that Eyjafjallajokull is difficult to spell, (I would like to hear from native Icelandic speakers whether its easier to spell if you’re familiar with the language), it’s also long, by the time you put that into the tweet stream you’ve got considerably less characters than you do with other hashtags. Interestingly, following it on twitter you see substantive discussion by people I suspect are largely outside of Iceland wondering (like I did) how you say this word. Not all of those discussions are in English, but i am pretty certain that they are all not in Icelandic. Two other hashtags I’ve seen are #ashtag and #icelandic. Both of course suggest a dominant language in social media. This is already well known, but it’s another reminder of how different Internet experiences can be if you’re English-native or not. And what a privilege it is to have a working knowledge of English.

In Iceland it’s the case that the volcano that erupted did more than send up a large ash cloud, it also caused a glacier to melt. People were evacuated. Roads were destroyed. People’s farm lands were destroyed. Blogs are now collating the data, which is a good thing IMO since the twitter stream might be good for propagating news but it’s hard to get a sense of the total picture from bite-size messages. I like this interplay between blogs and twitter. Something similar is going on with the BBC who have a live feed of the impacts of the eruption, including those involving flights.

So what else is consuming the twitterverse is the impact on flights. It’s not just in Northern Europe. As I mentioned it’s also people trying to get from Europe to the United States and vice versa. And then there’s people for whom Europe is the first stop, such as those moving from the U.S. to India or vice versa. And one thing you immediately notice is how dependent we are on air travel for professional and personal reasons. Seeing people tweet their own tales of what they are going through gives the news a sense of “really happening” “real people”, well at least for me.

It’s another reminder of the global migration patterns that exist, in addition to the more short-term reasons people fly. And we’ll soon begin to see the global consequences of this disruption. It’s not just that the Northern European airspace is shut down, it’s now also that planes that were meant to be in one place, and their associated crews, are not where they should be. Soon, other forms of computational technologies will be brought to bear on solving what is I can only imagine a hideous n-way scheduling problem that each airline and airport has to go through to make sense of where the system currently is and how to return it to “normal” as soon as possible. Another consequence of this is that people are stuck in places and needing hotel rooms. And here it’s not that the ratio of people stuck in the wrong place some how works out. Here in Atlanta, we have a large domestic competition (Robotics and school children) coming to town and at the same time extra people who are affected by the ash cloud. You can also see that in the tweet stream.

Perhaps it’s obvious to all, but I find the way that it plays out via social media fascinating. A serious disruption to the infrastructure of global migration has obvious consequences, but they appear as I said to be “really happening” “real people”, well at least for me.

Other images, here, here, and a image of the gradual clearing out of British airspace, which reminds me of the one that occurred in the U.S. in the wake of 9/11.

oh, and this seems meta. While I was putting together this post, Ed Chi was writing about my own updates on the volcano that I made via twitter.

A divorce is announced: Facebook and Values

In social media on March 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I have just read the following facebook status update (and that so recently after this)

is very very happy … <ex husband> has agreed to a divorce … yahoo!!!

And I just had a new facebook moment. I should say that I’ve not been divorced myself, it took me a long time to get married, and I’m hopeful that it’ll stay that way. So, when I initially saw this status line, I had another social media moment.

At first, I was sort of surprised. Surprised to even read it. It seemed somehow so unlike most things I read on Facebook. Although now when I think about it why is it more surprising than some of the things I’ve read, let alone some of the things I’ve posted that are pretty personal expressions of my politics. Why, because some how I am more calibrated to the idea that politics is OK to discuss in public.

And it’s not that I am saying it’s not OK to discuss divorce in public. I think that’s more of a personal choice though. I think I have some friends who would probably not choose this particular medium for that particular announcement.

But, social media is also a choice. And so the other thing I read into this was an expression of happiness. I don’t know enough of the context, how long has this person been waiting to get that news (the person does not say). And I can only imagine that when divorce appears to be the only way forward, that having to wait any length of time before one can finally begin the closure and moving on must be difficult.

And so, facebook continues for me to be an experiment. And it’s not just what I participate in (like my recent series of political-oriented posts). It’s also how I respond to the other things I read. Facebook confronts me with my values. It has, every now and again, caused me to pause and reflect. Why did I seem surprised? And perhaps that’s one more reason it’s powerful, it helps to surface and expose my own assumptions and that could be a way I see the world with more nuance, but also inspect and ask myself the important question: what are my values and how do I and those values interact with the world.

Fighting on facebook

In research, social media on March 18, 2010 at 10:07 am

I don’t think i’ve ever seen a real couple fight on facebook. What I have seen is couples be quite playful with each other via facebook. Commentaries if you will.

And thankfully this seems to be sort of true for the not-even-married-yet couple who are featured as facebook fighters.

Ms. Andrews shares her fiancé’s view. “A lot of people aren’t with us if we have a fight at home,” she said. This way, “All our friends can kind of comment on it.”

For the record, both Mr. Gower and Ms. Andrews say they are happy together and anticipate marital bliss. They find their Facebook parrying hilarious, and are not bothered by any loss of privacy

The article reads pretty alarming (to me) for a while, but then suggests that for them it’s playful too.

And doing so publicly and allowing other people to comment, perhaps that’s got some advantages. An arbitration process of sorts. (This is not dissimilar from a new television show in the United States called the Marriage Ref, featured on page 2 and which I have seen, where couples feature an argument and have a panel of three judges decide who is correct. Of course the panelists are famous and the couple get prizes for participating, so it might be preferable to be on television, but how many people can get onto television you see?).

And perhaps this is still better than the stuff posted on lamebook (warning: some adult material features there, and possibly things you’ll find tasteless even if you’re over 18…).

But marriage counselors don’t recommend it, they think that

But rather than win support, fighting in front of your friends will more likely convince them that you shouldn’t be together in the first place, marriage counselors say. That certainly seems to be the case among friends of Facebook fighters, who, like any witnesses to a public spat, are caught in the middle, unsure whether to intervene or mind their own business.

I’ve not yet had that experience. I’ve definitely seen couples tease each other, but I’ve always thought it was funny. Perhaps I’m just not serious enough. And surely couples teasing each other is actually rather endearing, a sign of familiarity and playfulness, and I for one find it smile-worthy when I see it going on.

One Woman’s Week on Facebook

In empirical, research, social media, women on March 8, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Trying to avoid the “beating a dead horse” department, I will try to make this the last commentary on facebook. Probably not possible, but I will try… I’ve been inspired to make my comments by an Op-ed piece, and more recently, another comment about the future of computing as being algorithms, algorithms, algorithms. So, I’ve already written about collective solidarity and emergency response as two uses of social media that to me seem important.

So this week I’ve been collecting some of the more mundane, and yet, I think important, although perhaps more locally (i.e. for those involved…_

I saw a colleague ask for help with research papers. He was looking for material that might be relevant to a problem he was working on. He got responses. I saw people requesting help with classes. They were taking classes and also teaching them. Those that were taking were asking questions about the homework etc… those that were teaching were looking for current examples drawn from the news. Facebook then, or at least some of the social networks that people are connected to via Facebook are resources for higher education, for scholarship and for education. And I can see why, it’s a great collective resource, a library not just of references, but also of experiences. It almost feels like real-ish time micro-mentoring when I am the one engaging in the ask. Real-ish because there are delays, and also as the commentary builds so it grows not just in length but also in plurality of opinions, a layered commentary. To all those who have helped me this way, thank you.

Now, speaking of plurality of discourse. A very local purposing of facebook I participated in this week was that some of my colleagues and I started a backchannel via one person’s status line during a talk. Hmm… perhaps we should have used twitter, but we made do. The first time, entirely unplanned, we converged on one person’s thread to discuss a talk that some of us were present at and others were listening to remotely. The talk was a Dean candidate talk. We discussed our thoughts. We discussed whether threads like this would make us converge on a shared view more quickly (yeah, that tells you something about my colleagues). At the end of the 60 minutes the thread (the original status and its 42 comments) was abandoned, until later, someone asked us whether we should leave it there… we all collectively deleted (there were a few smaller threads as well).

We had another Dean candidate talk, and this time the thread was started with the title “this thread will be deleted” and talked again. One use was for those watching remotely it was hard to hear the questions, since only the candidate was miked and therefore only the answers were heard. The fact that we had deleted threads also prompted facebook traffic about thread and memory deletion. I’m lucky to have playful as well as intelligent colleagues.

And humour matters. We’re going through some bruising times here in Georgia. Not that we’re different from other parts of the U.S. and other countries, but this recession is deep and higher education is feeling the depth of it. This week the State Legislature asked the University System of Georgia to absorb an additional 300M of cuts, on top of the about 265M (I think) we’ve already taken. So, a hard week. Humour doesn’t fix this challenge, and so we’re thankful that our President and Chancellor are working hard to make our case. But humour does create that all important pause.

And of course we were using facebook to discuss these issues. To disseminate timely information about meetings that were happening to review the budget.

I wrote about one set of friends who I knew were in Chile. What I didn’t know was that someone I worked with for 6 months was also there. Facebook showed me a hotel room that was damaged by the earthquake, but survived.

And when I wrote this it was Friday night, I learnt that you can now use Facebook to send money. Is this M-Pesa’s rival?

What ever it is, please send yours to beki70.

Chile Earthquake

In research, social media on February 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Before I say anything else, let me begin by saying that my thoughts and hopes are with the people of Chile who now struggle to recover from their Mag 8.8 earthquake and the significant aftershocks that continue to exacerbate the situation.

UPDATE 2: Google gets involved… search to coordinate seeking.

UPDATE: Friends are safe and well — and how did I find out, via Facebook. Also, now seeing another wave of social media, pictures being collected and recomposed. It’s an ever changing complex landscape.

I have colleagues at the University of Colorado who study citizen-generated social media responses to earthquakes. They call this work crisis informatics, and in the wake of the Haiti Earthquake encouraged people to “tweak the tweet” to help provide as much information as possible in a coordinated way. One of the challenges is that citizen responses are individual in nature (focused on what they’ve learnt, who they’re searching for, where they’re located etc… but there’s a significant utility to having that information aggregated so that it’s more shareable across social networks — potentially you could connect people who don’t know each other but know something about the same person, and of course the population trends matter, where are things immediately worse… etc…). And given the time pressure to respond, well you get the point.

I’ve written before about how social media are not limited to “trite” uses. How they can in fact be a part of a story about Computing for Social Relevance. But the emergence use of Twitter around Chile also shows how complex their use is to understand, and how much more there is left to do to be able to a) tell the whole story, what is the full use of these technologies for disaster response, what works what does not work. These are not just important research questions that are currently difficult to answer, but imperative for agencies who seek to use these media in emergency and disaster response (and there are a lot of agencies that do want to use these media).

Some of the challenges. Volume. Since writing this post I set twitter on a search for Chile or #Chile. That’s generated 15000 posts in about 30 minutes. This of course does not include the CCChile thread which is also producing a traffic (although my unscientific test of leaving both searches going suggests that the Chile thread is more active). Twitter apparently is widely used in Chile (something I’ve learnt on twitter this morning since I started writing this post) so perhaps this is particularly high volume traffic, but since the people of Chile are also without communications this is likely the response, at least initially of people outside Chile, focused on people who are there.

And that makes it just a little more personal for me, as I think about two friends of mine from graduate school who told me via facebook about 14 hours ago that they were leaving Western Argentina, quite close to the quake zone, but from the maps not in a substantial shake zone as best I can tell, to head to Easter Island where a tsunami is warned.

One of the Hawaii subthreads, associated with Action News is reporting that there have been runs on petrol in Hawaii, and that the mayor of the big Island is asking people not to use the telephone for anything other than emergencies. This is the @ActionNEws510 thread to which the HawaiiRedCross twitter account is also now reporting. By contrast the main Hawaii thread, which I also started informally tracking has received about 1400 tweets in the time it took me to write this paragraph. I note this because right now they are in a preparation for potential tsunami mode, so their communications infrastructure is still up and running. Another aspect of all of this then is if you have a type of advanced warning what can you do with it? Also, what type of mis-information gets spread.

Another aspect of all of this is where do you find the information? I found a piece of useful information about Hawaii. They expect the time that the tsunami will hit to be 4:05pm Eastern Standard Time, which is 11:05 am Hawaii time (I am curious how they can be so precise) information that comes from the Pacific Tsunami Warning center so that sounds pretty reliable. But it’s not on the Hawaii thread. It’s on the broader Pacific Tsunami or Tsunami thread which in the time it took me to write this paragraph generated about 600 new tweets.

I’ll stop here. I now actually want to focus my attentions on Easter Island since I am concerned about the people who I happen to know who have gone there. I am sure they’ll be fine, but they are not online, and I just want some reassurance. But, this is an unfortunate example of not only the power of social networks, but the complexity of those networks. Here are a lot of people who are trying to be helpful, who have taken a media that might at other times be playful (and where the lack of structure might contribute significantly to the delight of the experience) and turned it into one that’s trying to disseminate information, provide assistance. And it’s very very very hard to understand what’s going on, let alone how to shape the experience so that these people can be the best that they want to be, to really get and give what they are clearly trying to do. To do this requires basic research, the type of Computing research that my colleagues at Colorado (and UC Irvine) are engaged in. Computing for practice, it really matters.