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Posts tagged with ‘bang’

Witness Tags? No, A General Microsyntax For Emergencies

Jeff Jarvis wants a microsyntax to easily learn that a Twitter message was posted by a witness at a major event, such as the earthjquake in Japan:

Jeff Jarvis, Tweeters: I want a witness tag

A proposal:

It would be terribly useful if there were a separate convention for tweets from witnesses to major events so their reports can be separated from the discussion that follows. How about !jpquake for witnesses vs. #jpquake for discussion?

Moments after the tragic earthquake hit Japan, folks are reporting on TV, people turned immediately to Twitter to tell friends and family and perhaps the world what was happening to them and to use it to get information and services.

But, of course, in only moments, people around the world talking about the event and the hashtag gets overrun with folks who are talking *about* the event than *from* it. That’s all good and wonderful as well. But I want a way to separate the two.

If witnesses used the !tag, it would also be possible to identify and compile a Twitter list of them. This would be helpful in stories where personal security is an issue. Witnesses in Bahrain would be unwise to use geocoding. But the !tag would merely reveal what they are already revealing in their tweets: that they are there. Somewhere.

Note importantly that the !tag would help people in the middle of a major event — people who need information and services — to also filter out the noise of our discussion from outside.

As for reading !tag tweets, I’d want to filter out retweets and just get the originals.

I also would like to run !tag tweets through translation engines. I suggested that to Ubermedia’s Bill Gross and he and his crew had great ideas on that in return.

The challenge in all of this, of course, is inducing millions of people to add this behavior. Thoughts?

My response? Revisiting my proposed microsyntax for emergency messaging, called Bang, and considering its use for journalistic and humanitarian purposes, as well as for emergency messaging. As I responded in the Buzzmachine comments:

I offered an outline for a more general microsyntax for disaster related communication many many disasters ago, called Bang: see http://www.stoweboyd.com/bang.

The thinking is more general, in that it is not intended for journalists, but it certainly is geared to folks on the scene, asking questions and providing information, like this:

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !@hassan haque: compound fracture of the lower right leg

The idea of this microsyntax is to structure the messages using ‘punctuation’ instead of natural language tags. The ‘!bette’ at the start states that the message is associated with a disaster called ‘bette’, in my example a hurricane in the NE US.

These Bang disaster codes could be parsed — or created — by simple software tools, or manually by anyone with a wallet-sized instruction card.

It was years ago that I attended your Disaster 2.0 session at Winer’s Blogosphere conference, and we still haven’t gotten very far.

The ease with which people can creat and use tags is actually a negative when dealing with large-scale emergencies: hashtags are made from natural languages which have to be translated, they are potentially long (using precious characters in Twitter and other SMS-based systems), and have weak syntax, so parsing by dumb programs is difficult. These are arguments for Bang, or something like it.

Red Cross Wants Us To Use 9-1-1 In Crises, But That’s Not Social

The Red Cross would like us to use 9-1-1, not social tools in disasters:

Web Users Increasingly Rely on Social Media to Seek Help in a Disaster

A new American Red Cross survey shows many web users would turn to social media to seek help for themselves or others during emergencies—and they expect first responders to be listening.

The online survey asked 1,058 adults about their use of social media sites in emergency situations. It found that if they needed help and couldn’t reach 9-1-1, one in five would try to contact responders through a digital means such as e-mail, websites or social media. If web users knew of someone else who needed help, 44 percent would ask other people in their social network to contact authorities, 35 percent would post a request for help directly on a response agency’s Facebook page and 28 percent would send a direct Twitter message to responders.

Web users also have clear expectations about how first responders should be answering their requests. The survey showed that 69 percent said that emergency responders should be monitoring social media sites in order to quickly send help—and nearly half believe a response agency is probably already responding to any urgent request they might see.

And the survey respondents expected quick response to an online appeal for help—74 percent expected help to come less than an hour after their tweet or Facebook post.

“The first and best choice for anyone in an emergency situation is to call 9-1-1,” said Gail McGovern, American Red Cross president and CEO. “But when phone lines are down or the 9-1-1 system is overwhelmed, we know that people will be persistent in their quest for help and use social media for that purpose.”

Leaving aside the issue that police and emergency organizations aren’t oriented toward social tools for a minute, it should be clear that social solutions are inherently better than telephone calls, since they are social, and open.

Notifying other possible victims about hazards and issues is just as important as informing the authorities. Consider the following fragment of Bang Emergency Code, that tells everyone about the roof of Home Depot blocking the street in a hurricane called Bette:

!bette /home depot, hyannisport/: roof has blown off the main building and is blocking Main Street www.sto.ly/8797gd

One of the problems with closed solutions like 9-1-1 is that the police or emergency responders don’t share their information readily. Oh, and 9-1-1 is very mobile friendly.

So, we should retool and retrain the emergency response organizations to shift to social tools, especially ones that have been rejiggered to work in a crisis setting.

People will use what they are familiar with in a crisis, and they are strongly motivated to have their situation accessible to their friends and families, and 9-1-1 doesn’t fit that context very well.

More Disasters On The Horizon: The Pressing Need For Emergency Codes

The earthquake Sunday along the US-Mexico border is (another) wake up call for preparedness:

Jesse McKinley, In California, Louder Calls to Prepare for Quakes

Seismologists say a major earthquake is almost a certainty in coming decades, given the region’s seismic history. But a recent study by the California Emergency Management Agency found the majority of the state’s households failing to meet recommendations for many basic emergency needs, like stockpiling water (a minimum of three gallons per person), reinforcing their homes and making disaster plans.

Such warnings had increased in urgency even before Sunday’s earthquake, which caused aftershocks on Monday in Mexico as well as in the California counties on the border. In a statement issued with its March 5 report, Mathew Bettenhausen, secretary of the Emergency Management Agency, said the recent deadly quakes in Haiti and Chile were “unwelcome reminders” of what could happen in California.

On Monday, Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the agency, added that the continuing failure of Californians to fully prepare was frustrating, but that Sunday’s quake was “a teachable moment.”

“It’s tough trying to get people to think about something bad,” Mr. Huston said. “The only time we can get them to think about it is when the earth moves. Well, 20 million people felt that quake. So there’s 20 million people who now realize that earthquakes can affect them.”

The moment that disaster strikes is the worst time to try to get prepared. We all have a tendency to put off the boring details: like stockpiling emergency drinking water, batteries, and so on.

The Twitter community is no different, alas.

When the quake hit Haiti there was a mad scramble to try to cobble together some sort of query/alert system in Twitter to help first responders, victims, and victims’ families. All well motivated, but pretty chaotic.

The result were various hashtags that could be used to indicate various sorts of messages and to demark different bit of information, like materiél needed, names of victims, and so on.

I pointed out after the Clilean earthquake that this was an inadequate solution for a wide range of reasons:

Yet Another Earthquake: The Pressing Need For Emergency Codes

[…] we should develop a better way to transmit messages related to emergencies, and it should not be based on natural language keywords, which is what hashtag-based approaches do. A better microsyntax should be developed, using only common special characters, as we do with commas, apostrophes, and question marks in written language.

People have been using hashtags because 1/ they are fairly well understood, and 2/ they are supported in an obvious way by Twitter search and other search tools.

However, we should push ahead with a better approach and build tools to support it. That support might include adopt by Twitter and other tool vendors to support the use of these emergency codes in a direct fashion.

Therefore, I making the following proposition: A working group of interested parties should be formed, including representatives of various emergency and charitable groups involved in disaster recovery, to collectively develop a workable approach to messaging during emergencies.

I admit that I have not moved mountains to push ahead on this project, but I have been quite busy and personally running at 50% because of the recent death of my mother.

But it is evident that we need to push ahead on this: there are innumerable potential disasters, and many that are predictable, like the pending earthquake in the Jakarta region of Indonesia that could kill 10-20 million people, and could lead to 50-100 million refugees. The scale of these disasters is inconceivable, so the least that we can do — web culture — is to devise some tools to handle this better.

My proposal?

I believe that such an approach [one that is designed for universal service] has to have several characteristics:

  • A workable approach cannot be based on keywords that are derived from natural language, like hashtags.
  • The microsyntax should be distinctive, and unique: it should conflict as little as possible with other uses of punctuation, for example.
  • Various scenarios of use should be developed based on the experiences of those involved in disaster response and recovery to make certain that the broadest collection of use cases are covered.
  • Open source software to support this system should be designed and developed. This could include the development of an emergency codes server, which could be collecting emergency codes messages from Twitter and other services, in collaboration with Twitter and those services. This would potentially offload demand from the everyday services during emergencies, and allow for integration with other emergency-oriented applications. (This would also allow for blocking individuals or applications who might seek to exploit the service for spamming or outright disruption of messaging.)
  • In such a model, victims, families, press, and responders could use everyday communication channels — cell phones and PCs with Twitter clients or via SMS — while those involved in mobilizing relief, coordinating materials and personnel, or tracking the status of people and places could be provided with specialized applications that could aggregate emergency encoded messages into a better big picture.

I have proposed the outlines of a microsyntax for emergency codes (see Disaster Microsyntax: Project EPIC, Tweak The Tweet, And Emergency Codes). It is very provisional, but has some of the characteristics needed.

I plan to run an Emergency Codes project under the Microsyntax.org non-profit I launched last year. I am looking for active support — funds, open source developers, and other organizations — to start an effort this year.

I will approach others — like Twitter — to try to gain their support as well.

We have to do something before the next disaster strikes. 

—-

Update 30 March 2011 — See Bang: A Microsyntax For Emergency Messaging

Bang: A Microsyntax for Emergency Messaging

I have proposed a microsyntax for sending and receiving structured Twitter messages during and relating to disasters. See the emergency+codes tag for all discussion.

Why Not Hashtags?

One of the problems with microsyntax based on hashtags is that hashtags are words in specific languages, so there is an immediate divergence in this case with English and French, and perhaps Creole, as well?

This is countered by the creation of a second glossary of hashtags in French, but the equivalence is not immediately obvious.

The second problem is that people aren’t using the templates as defined. For example, “#name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive’ does have a name in it, but it’s buried. To use a simple metric, a stupid program wouldn’t be able to extract ‘Lee Strickland’ from that.

I think that a few other approaches could work better even given the requirements that a disaster imposes:

  • People will have only the most primitive communication capabilities, like cell phones, or public computers. (We have to imagine these at least, or Twitter and microsyntax can’t play a role at all.)
  • We have to rely on Twitter as the basic platform, although it is possible to imagine external applications that are designed to work with Twitter, so long as they don’t require specialized software or hardware on the communication device. This means that specialized applications can be developed that interoperate with Twitter. As just one example, geolocational elements could be used to display messages relative to locations in a stricken area, like Haiti in this case.
  • Hashtags are a general purpose tool, like a hammer, but even the best hammer can’t be used for all purposes. A hammer is a bad wrench, for example. In general, hashtags are intended to represent themes or topics that a post is about. Extending them to act as keywords is attractive at the moment, because various search tools currently identify the ‘#abc’ structure. But using hashtags consumes too many characters unnecessarily in a 104 character contex.

The Bang Microsyntax

My recommendations at this point for Disaster microsyntax are these:

  1. We should dedicate ‘!’ to indicate that a message is associated with a specific named disaster or emergency. This use of ‘bang’ or ‘exclamation mark’ should take precedence over other possible uses of the character. I propose we call this system ‘Bang’. Some international organization — perhaps the UN? Red Cross? — should be responsible for the naming of the disaster. This should be the first element of the post. For example, ‘!Katrina’ would have appeared at the head of all emergency tweets related to Katrina. Note that this is in distinction to the use of #katrina in a post, which does not indicate that it is an emergency post, just someone commenting on Katrina, for example in regard to local Lousiana politics.
  1. Twitter and related applications, like Twitter cllients, should be extended to support the use of bang in obvious ways. Note that this possibly means that Twitter could give preference to the passing of emergency messages, if necessary.
  1. Geolocation is more general than emergency, and some general convention should be used for that. I have advocated the so-called ‘geoslash’ notation, but this is a critical part of the whole picture.
  1. The syntax of emergency messages should be structured enough so that all parts of the message are defined elements, but loose enough that order of the various elements is arbitrary.
  1. A collection of two and three character codes based on bang should be developed to indicate various sorts of information useful in emergencies. For example, ‘!@’ could stand for the name of a person, based on the use of ‘@’ in Twitter and other applications. ‘!@@’ could be used for organizations, businesses, and so on. ‘!?’ could represent a question being asked, and ‘!!’ could be used for things desired, needed or the like.
  1. A general model for adding a note or status to any defined element could rely on ‘:’. For example, ‘!@john jones: alive’ would indicate that John Jones is alive (in English).

Here’s an example, for a hypothetical disaster, a hurricane called ‘Bette’ that has hit the eastern seaboard of the US:

!bette !@john jones: alive /wellfleet hospital/

This is an emergency message stating that John Jones is alive and is located at Wellfleet Hospital. Alternatively, the hospital could have been identified as an emergency-related organization or business, with ‘!@@wellfleet hospital’ instead of being treated as a location.

!bette @carlabreck !?@sam ying: with you? 

This is directed to @carlabreck using her twitter ID, asking the status of Sam Ying, specifically whether he is with her.

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !!food blankets: 20 people stranded here !!medevac: 1 compound fracture

This indicates a request ‘!!’ for food and blankets for 20 people stranded at the post office in Provincetown, and a request for a medevac for someone with a compound fracture.

Note that this message could be jumbled in different ways — !bette !!medevac: 1 compound fracture /usps, provincetown MA/ !!food blankets: 20 people stranded here — and it would still have the same meaning.

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !@hassan haque: compound fracture of the lower right leg

This is an accompanying message to the previous, indicating the name of the person with the compound fracture.

!bette /home depot, hyannisport/: roof has blown off the main building and is blocking Main Street www.sto.ly/8797gd

This is an informational post, identifying a hazard so that authorities monitoring might do something.

Getting Into Circulation

I am open to working with other groups interested in implementing tools and techniques to circulate this microsyntax for emergency messaging, or something like it.

Yet Another Earthquake: The Pressing Need For Emergency Codes

During the Haitian Earthquakes first frightening days, the web world reacted in nearly instinctive fashion, clamoring for help, money, and technological approaches to mobilizing. The world’s larger response led to emergency crews trying to assist, doctors and nurses working in makeshift hospitals, and people the world over sending money and emergency supplies.

Even so, the devastation was unimaginable. And the Haitian people are in a terrible state, and likely to be facing years of rebuilding and healing. Hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions have been injured or grieving for loved ones.

We cannot predict disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes, but we can do a much better job of coordinating our responses, and the natural communication that accompanies these disasters.

A number of approaches have been developed in recent months for trying to structure messages in Twitter to better relay emergency needs or requests. Many of these are based on the now commonly used hashtag.

My perspective is that hashtags are not really an appropriate way to encode complex information in Twitter or other streams of communication. In everyday use, hashtags are used to indicate the theme or topic of a tweet. They are not used to denote different parts of the tweet, they way that prepositions are used in natural language, for example. And perhaps worst of all, hashtags are based on natural language words or acronyms. So hashtags like ‘#have’ or ‘#need’ are understandable only to those who read English.languages. A disaster in Dagestan (a Russian republic on the Caspian Sea) might involve 15 or more language groups, with Russian being one of the smallest.

I read a piece in the New York Times recently that included a map of the most likely danger spots for catastrophic earthquakes. Here’s a map:

 

Sources: Koeri-Bogazici University, Istanbul (Istanbul analysis); Center for International Earth Science Information Network and Center for Hazards and Risk Research, Earth Institute at Columbia University. Via NY Times.

I studied linguistics in college, and I estimate that at least 50 languages are used in these areas by hundreds of millions of people. Spanish, Creole Friench, and various Native Amercian languages in South America are dwarfed by the Asian and Indonesian languages. Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, and other widely known major languages are involved, but most Amercians can’t even come up with the name of the national language of Indonesian — Bahasa Indonesia — which is spoken by around 200 million people there. It is the fourth most populous nation on earth, and an earthquake like the one that shook haiti to pieces could kill millions there.

My point is that we should develop a better way to transmit messages related to emergencies, and it should not be based on natural language keywords, which is what hashtag-based approaches do. A better microsyntax should be developed, using only common special characters, as we do with commas, apostrophes, and question marks in written language.

People have been using hashtags because 1/ they are fairly well understood, and 2/ they are supported in an obvious way by Twitter search and other search tools.

However, we should push ahead with a better approach and build tools to support it. That support might include adopt by Twitter and other tool vendors to support the use of these emergency codes in a direct fashion.

Therefore, I making the following proposition: A working group of interested parties should be formed, including representatives of various emergency and charitable groups involved in disaster recovery, to collectively develop a workable approach to messaging during emergencies.

I believe that such an approach has to have several characteristics:

  • A workable approach cannot be based on keywords that are derived from natural language, like hashtags.
  • The microsyntax should be distinctive, and unique: it should conflict as little as possible with other uses of punctuation, for example.
  • Various scenarios of use should be developed based on the experiences of those involved in disaster response and recovery to make certain that the broadest collection of use cases are covered.
  • Open source software to support this system should be designed and developed. This could include the development of an emergency codes server, which could be collecting emergency codes messages from Twitter and other services, in collaboration with Twitter and those services. This would potentially offload demand from the everyday services during emergencies, and allow for integration with other emergency-oriented applications. (This would also allow for blocking individuals or applications who might seek to exploit the service for spamming or outright disruption of messaging.)
  • In such a model, victims, families, press, and responders could use everyday communication channels — cell phones and PCs with Twitter clients or via SMS — while those involved in mobilizing relief, coordinating materials and personnel, or tracking the status of people and places could be provided with specialized applications that could aggregate emergency encoded messages into a better big picture.

I have proposed the outlines of a microsyntax for emergency codes (see Disaster Microsyntax: Project EPIC, Tweak The Tweet, And Emergency Codes). It is very provisional, but has some of the characteristics needed. Here’s a sample tweet, based on a hypothetical hurricane called Bette that has struck New England:

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !@hassan haque: compound fracture of the lower right leg

Emergency messages (in this proposal) start with the unambiguous ‘!’ as the first character, and then the name of the disaster: naming must be undertaken by some international body. Then there is a location tag (or geoslash) indicating the US post office in Provincetown Massachusetts. Then there is some information about a specific individual, Hassan Haque, indicated by ‘!@’, and followed by a text field, indicated by ‘:’.

The specifics of this proposed microsyntax for emergency codes are less important than the fact that this — and other possible approaches — would work just as well for Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, or Turkish.

And the microsyntax might not be seen by the originator of the message. If I were the person in the USPS building, typing this on my iPhone, I could be using a free application that formats emergency codes, or a feature of a Twitter client to support them.

In that case I might be provided with a simple form interface where I pick the sort of message — information about a person — and I merely key in the data: I type in location, the person’s name, and the text. That app would formulate as a standard emergency code, and out it would go into the Twitter stream. The official emergency codes server would gather that and other emergency codes, and other applications would slice and dice the information to display it, make planning easier, and to serve as a repository for others. Hassan’s family might access that information to find his status and location, for example.

The crisis in Chile is another wake up call. It doesn’t seem to be anything like what we have seen recently in Haiti, or what we can anticipate if we get a serious temblor in Instanbul or Jakarta. The NY Times piece I mentioned above stated that seismologists estimate that a nighttime earthquake of the sort predicted for Instanbul would lead to at least 30,000 deaths in the city, not including the surrounding countryside, and unknown levels of injured and displaced. A similar quake in Indonesia could mean 10-20 million deaths.

We should take steps now to build the system we need, instead of responding instinctively at the time of the next catastrophe.

—-

Update 30 March 2011 — See Bang: A Microsyntax For Emergency Messaging

Disaster Microsyntax: Project EPIC, Tweak The Tweet, And Emergency Codes

A number of folks working with Project Epic are scrambling to devise a workable microsyntax to help with disaster relief in Haiti.

Project EPIC has a larger charter, but this Haitian response is directly in its area of focus, for sure:

Project EPIC, which launched in September 2009, is supported by a $2.8M grant from the US National Science Foundation.  It is multi-disciplinary, multi-university, multi-lingual research effort to support the information needs by members of the public during times of mass emergency. In this age of social media, we bring our behavioral and technical knowledge of “computer mediated communication” to the world of crisis studies and emergency response. As researchers, we are committed to careful study of socio-technical transformation and building human-centered computation. In addition to empirical observational study that requires new ways of studying massive “widescale” coordination across the internet, we conduct “action research” and employ “participatory design” oriented approaches. We aim to look beyond today’s state of the art and anticipate future socio-technical change.

via epic.cs.colorado.edu

The Haitian earthquake has led to the spontaneous use of Twitter to communicate about missing people, request help of various kinds, and other disaster-related needs. The group is promoting ‘Tweek The Tweet’, a collection of defined hashtags (‘beacons’) and related microsyntax. One of the drivers for this is the desire to use existing twitter applications and search tools, which prohibited the development of anything radically different, a topic I will return to.

Here’s what is proposed:

Real Tweet Examples for Haiti

On 2010-01-16 06:15:45 RIElliott said:
#Haiti #Need Dr treating survivors need people & supplies #Contact Dr Denis Cyrille Rue Monseigneur Guilloux #556 Cell# 3555-1406 via@MejidX
 
On 2010-01-16 06:09:46 RIElliott said:
#Haiti #Need generator & water pump repair, tents #Location Leogane, Haiti Nursing School #Contact @nursetim www.haitinursing.org
 
On 2010-01-16 05:56:28 407underground said:
#Haiti #need #rescue #name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive #location Hotel Montana. Please RT send help now!
 
On 2010-01-16 05:56:28 407Rob said:
#Haiti #need #rescue #name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive #location Hotel Montana. Please RT send help now!
 
On 2010-01-16 05:33:19 RIElliott said:
#Haiti #need #rescue #name American Christine Legagneur is stuck there alive #location UNIBANK Bourdon (via @carodefay)

Our team and collaborators are proposing a Tweet-friendly hashtag-based syntax to help direct Twitter communications for more efficient data extraction for those communicating about the Haiti earthquake disaster. Use only requires modifications of Tweet messages to make information pieces that refer to #location, #status, #needs, #damage and several other elements of emergency communications more machine readable. This allows for easier automated collation by any number of groups and good samaritans from any number of sources. HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!!! Read on for immediate simulated life examples, instructions for deployment, and the initial tag folksonomy for the Haiti disaster. Tags in French are now also available. We welcome ongoing assistance in language translation for on-the-ground use when that becomes possible, and international deployment.

Tweet Examples In Use (See New Real Tweets to Right):

EXAMPLE1: #haiti #imok #name John Doe #loc Mirebalais Shelter #status minor injuries
EXAMPLE2: #haiti #need #transport #loc Jacmel #num 10 #info medical volunteers looking for big boat to transport to PAP
EXAMPLE3: #haiti #need #translator #contact @pierrecote
EXAMPLE5: #haiti #ruok #name Raymonde Lafrotune #loc Delmas 3, Rue Menelas #1
EXAMPLE4: #haiti #ruok #name Camelia Siquineau #loc Hotel Montana
EXAMPLE6: #haiti #offering #volunteers #translators #loc Florida #contact @FranceGlobal

Mission/Instructions for a Two-Pronged Deployment:

1) Promote grammar through available digital communication channels to get immediate pick-up by people, including those who are affected, emergency personnel, and—perhaps most usefully for immediate use—volunteers

To this end, please send out prescriptive examples, such as these:

#haiti pls tweet in the format: #haiti #ruok #name [first last] #loc [location] #contact [@ or #]

#haiti pls tweet in the format: #haiti #imok #name [first last] #loc [location] #status [status] #contact [@ or #]

#haiti pls tweet in the format: #haiti #need #medical #loc [location] #num

#haiti pls tweet in the format: #haiti #offering #shelter #loc [address] #num [amount] #contact [@ or #]

#haiti pls use these 1st hashtags: #imok, #ruok, #offering, #need, #damage, #status

#haiti pls use these 2nd hashtags: #food #water #shelter #transport #volunteers #translators #fuel #information

#haiti pls use these data hashtags: #name [first last] #loc [address, intersection] #num [amount] #contact [@ or #]

#haiti pls use these end hashtags: #status [status info] #info [more information, comment]

 And here’s some real examples:

 Real Tweet Examples for Haiti

 On 2010-01-16 06:15:45 RIElliott said:

#Haiti #Need Dr treating survivors need people & supplies #Contact Dr Denis Cyrille Rue Monseigneur
Guilloux #556 Cell# 3555-1406 via@MejidX

On 2010-01-16 06:09:46 RIElliott said:

#Haiti #Need generator & water pump repair, tents #Location Leogane, Haiti Nursing School #Contact @nursetim www.haitinursing.org

On 2010-01-16 05:56:28 407underground said:

#Haiti #need #rescue #name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive #location Hotel Montana. Please RT send help now!

On 2010-01-16 05:56:28 407Rob said:

#Haiti #need #rescue #name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive #location Hotel Montana. Please RT send help now!

On 2010-01-16 05:33:19 RIElliott said:

#Haiti #need #rescue #name American Christine Legagneur is stuck there alive #location UNIBANK Bourdon (via @carodefay) 

A Few Observations, To Be Considered After The Disaster Is Over

One of the problems with microsyntax based on hashtags is that hashtags are words in specific languages, so there is an immediate divergence in this case with English and French, and perhaps Creole, as well?

This is countered by the creation of a second glossary of hashtags in French, but the equivalence is not immediately obvious.

The second problem is that people aren’t using the templates as defined. For example, “#name American & UF Alumni Lee Strickland is stuck there alive’ does have a name in it, but it’s buried. To use a simple metric, a stupid program wouldn’t be able to extract ‘Lee Strickland’ from that.

I think that a few other approaches could work better even given the requirements that a disaster imposes:

  • People will have only the most primitive communication capabilities, like cell phones, or public computers. (We have to imagine these at least, or Twitter and microsyntax can’t play a role at all.)

  • We have to rely on Twitter as the basic platform, although it is possible to imagine external applications that are designed to work with Twitter, so long as they don’t require specialized software or hardware on the communication device. This means that specialized applications can be developed that interoperate with Twitter. As just one example, geolocational elements could be used to display messages relative to locations in a stricken area, like Haiti in this case.

  • Hashtags are a general purpose tool, like a hammer, but even the best hammer can’t be used for all purposes. A hammer is a bad wrench, for example. In general, hashtags are intended to represent themes or topics that a post is about. Extending them to act as keywords is attractive at the moment, because various search tools currently identify the ‘#abc’ structure. But using hashtags consumes too many characters unnecessarily in a 104 character contex.

Other microsyntax has emerged, like @user and RT, that have become implemented directly in Twitter, and a wide variety of other microsyntax is in use, informally. I have even set up a non-profit organization, Microsyntax.org, to research and advocate microsyntactic conventions. (In a supreme proof of the bad timing inherent in the universe, I am currently involved in rebuilding the Microsyntax.org website, so it is in
disarray. I hope to have it reworked in the next few days, however.)

My recommendations at this point for Disaster microsyntax are these:

  1. We should dedicate ‘!’ to indicate that a message is associated with a specific named disaster or emergency. This use of ‘bang’ or ‘exclamation mark’ should take precedence over other possible uses of the character. I propose we call these ‘Emergency Codes’. Some international organization — perhaps the UN? Red Cross? — should be responsible for the naming of the disaster. This should be the first element of the post. For example, ‘!Katrina’ would have appeared at the head of all emergency tweets related to Katrina. Note that this is in distinction to the use of #katrina in a post, which does not indicate that it is an emergency post, just someone commenting on Katrina, for example in regard to local Lousiana politics.

  2. Twitter and related applications, like Twitter cllients, should be extended to support the use of bang in obvious ways. Note that this possibly means that Twitter could give preference to the passing of emergency messages, if necessary.

  3. Geolocation is more general than emergency, and some general convention should be used for that. I have advocated the so-called ‘geoslash’ notation, but this is a critical part of the whole picture.

  4. The syntax of emergency messages should be structured enough so that all parts of the message are defined elements, but loose enough that order of the various elements is arbitrary.

  5. A collection of two and three character codes based on bang should be developed to indicate various sorts of information useful in emergencies. For example, ‘!@’ could stand for the name of a person, based on the use of ‘@’ in Twitter and other applications. ‘!@@’ could be used for organizations, businesses, and so on. ‘!?’ could represent a question being asked, and ‘!!’ could be used for things desired, needed or the like.

  6. A general model for adding a note or status to any defined element could rely on ‘:’. For example, ‘!@john jones: alive’ would indicate that John Jones is alive (in English).

Here’s an example, for a hypothetical disaster, a hurricane called ‘Bette’ that has hit the eastern seaboard of the US:

!bette !@john jones: alive /wellfleet hospital/

This is an emergency message stating that John Jones is alive and is located at Wellfleet Hospital. Alternatively, the hospital could have been identified as an emergency-related organization or business, with ‘!@@wellfleet hospital’ instead of being treated as a location.

!bette @carlabreck !?@sam ying: with you? 

This is directed to @carlabreck using her twitter ID, asking the status of Sam Ying, specifically whether he is with her.

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !!food blankets: 20 people stranded here !!medevac: 1 compound fracture

This indicates a request ‘!!’ for food and blankets for 20 people stranded at the post office in Provincetown, and a request for a medevac for someone with a compound fracture.

Note that this message could be jumbled in different ways — !bette !!medevac: 1 compound fracture /usps, provincetown MA/ !!food blankets: 20 people stranded here — and it would still have the same meaning.

!bette /usps, provincetown MA/ !@hassan haque: compound fracture of the lower right leg

This is an accompanying message to the previous, indicating the name of the person with the compound fracture.

!bette /home depot, hyannisport/: roof has blown off the main building and is blocking Main Street www.sto.ly/8797gd

This is an informational post, identifying a hazard so that authorities monitoring might do something.

Note that these could be translated into other languages, and all the microsyntax would be the same: an international code for emergency messages.

Lastly, specialized applications could be developed to capture the emergency messages and track them in various ways: collating all the requests for medevac, for example, so that helicopters could be scheduled more efficiently, or collating all the request for blankets and food.

I plan to contact the folks at EPIC and volunteer to work with them on these and related ideas, as soon as possible, as well as kicking off a new project at Microsyntax.org, developing these ideas more
completely. I also invte others to get involved, and in particular, I would welcome developer support in building an open source example web application that would parse Emergency Codes and aggregate the information in useful ways. Others could take that code and create other more specialized applications for various purposes.

I hope that EPIC, Microsyntax.org, and others can harness the attention caused by the tragic event in Haiti to come up with something to help the next time.

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Update 30 March 2011 — See Bang: A Microsyntax For Emergency Messaging

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