Saturday, May 15, 2010


Following the oil spill with your social media tools

by Larry Geller

Wanna get closer to the new than the newspapers? Here are some resources. But if you don’t know what “crowdsourcing” is, this post may be a bit of a stretch. Bear with me, though.

Tweets updates from the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center (JIC) are here. You don’t have to be a Twitter user to check them, just click.

A good hashtag seems to be #oilspill. A hashtag is a way that Twitter users lump their tweets together on a particular subject. If you are not a Twitter user, you can still check on a hashtag by typing, for example.

Crowdsourced reports of oil spill smell are at #oilreport, and many of them use the new geotagging feature of Twitter. That is, the tweeter’s location is automatically inserted by their cell phone or other mobile device. The reports are automatically posted to a map, which is here. One report I noticed links to a TwitPic of an oily jellyfish.

Checking a hashtag often leads to other Twitter reports. To see what a particular user has posted recently, just click on the person’s name.

That’s what “crowdsourcing” is. Ordinary people walking along a beach can whip out their iPhones to take a picture of some oily or dead creature, say, and in an instant make a report via Twitter that gets added to the database and posted on the map! And the reporter doesn’t have to figure out the location, it’s automatically added.  Isn’t science wonderful?

The mapping organization tweets at oilreport.

The Deepwater Horizon Unified Command Response Center website currently features the YouTube video of the failed capping operation, and has other information. This looks like a good place to stop by. Or use their RSS feed.

There is also a Facebook page, of course. You don’t have to be a member of Facebook to see it.

They are posting snapshots on their Flickr page.

From their YouTube video or YouTube page, you can find other videos over on the right side where YouTube puts related videos. There are several short videos of more or less interest. I’m a bit bored with the ones showing overflights of oily ocean, but there are a couple good ones in the pile.

Also on Flickr are images made by ordinary people from balloons, kites, and the occasional airplane, of the oil spill.

In fact, there is a website devoted to Grassroots Mapping of the oil spill.

Grassroots Mapping

Another crowdsourced reporting system is the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Check out their webpage, map, and incident reports. If you send them your location, they’ll send you alerts if a report is filed within 20 kilometers of where you are.

The Huffington Post had an article on them which includes also a report about how family businesses are being destroyed: Social Networking Crisis Map Shows Impacts of Oil Spill (5/7/2010).

That article also mentions the Ushhaidi system, which powers the Louisiana Bucket Brigade website and was also used for the Haiti disaster:

The Ushahidi Platform allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.

That’s a lot of technology put to use to assist in following this ongoing crisis. You can tune in at whatever level you like. Perhaps the simplest is via Twitter, which brings instant news either to your computer or to your handheld device.

It’s also worth studying for the time when some disaster strikes near where we live. We can shorten the learning curve by studying how ordinary citizens and our government are using the new social media tools at our disposal.


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