Why microblogging might prove a good fit for aid agencies

by Jon Thompson on March 25, 2009

IMCI apologize for neglecting my duties but I have been busy making arrangements for an upcoming trip.  I’ll fill you in on the details in the next few days but for now I want to point out my little find of a few days back.

For some time I have been wondering about tools like Twitter and how they could best be used by aid agencies.  I’ve blogged in the past about Twitter for Thuraya but have always had my doubts about the usefulness of Twitter and if it could really prove more useful than the marketing tool which many aid agencies use it as.  I know that InSTEDD is hoping to use microblogging to cull epi data with projects like SMS GeoChat and that news agencies and the general public can troll Tweets for words like ‘earthquake’ and ‘plane crash’ using tools such as Twitterfall, with the idea being that we’ll all be able to react a little faster to developing events, but until now I have failed to see exactly how microblogging could be integrated into our daily operations.  Keep in mind that most aid agencies are very slow to adapt new technologies and many still rely heavily on Excel, Outlook and Skype.

I had just finished looking at tools like Yammer when I noticed that IMCEmRes had begun following me on Twitter.  It turns out that IMCEmRes is International Medical Corps Emergency Response team and it appears they’ve started using Twitter as a type of quick communication tool for those times when there is so much data flying around that email just can’t cut it and it’s easier to have everyone working off of the same stream.  Back in the day we’d simply set up an email group for each emergency but inevitably someone would forget to hit Reply All and the conversation would be broken.  Now, with a stream of data trickling down your screen courtesy of Twhirl or iPhone Apps like Tweetie you’ll be able to track the flow of info in real time and not worry about who gets cc’d.  For those of you in the field with your trusty Nokia handsets try Twibble or Tiny Twitter which I found after a quick search.

While I think that micro blogging might be a useful tool for aid agencies in the first hours and days of an emergency as they try to manage the deluge of information I imagine that a number of teams are taking issue with the fact that their servers are not the ones hosting the information and that anything they say could be intercepted somewhere along the line.  My guess is that they are going to be asking for a good solid microblogging application that integrates well with Outlook, Skype, etc and which allows them complete control over their info.  I am not sure I’d want my data floating around on Twitter or Yammer servers.

Needless to say I am thrilled that the folks over IMC have jumped on the bandwagon and started to look for ways in which to integrate Twitter into their emergency response program.  Whether or not they find it useful is another question and one that can probably only be answered after the next major event.

If anyone knows of a solution like the one I’ve outlined above please leave a comment so we can let others know.

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