Japan quake shows again why the Internet is awesome

April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is a sign of the best and the worst of times.  A group of volunteer professionals and citizen journalists use Twitter to create a hit book to mark the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

As with the Christchurch earthquake, people are mobilised to act for charity, for kindness, to help those stricken by natural disasters and catastrophe. The worst events often bring out the best in people and the social web now does this in faster ways possible than ever before. To quote, US author and internet scholar Clay Shirky, “group action just got easier”.

Take Stories from the Japan Earthquake. The book began as a Twitter hashtag – #quakebook – and has within four weeks been realised as an electronic downloadable book made up from dozens of contributions. There are plans for a hard copy version and all proceeds from the $US10 price will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

The book, full name 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, is the brainchild of@ourmaninabiko, a British expat married to a Japanese woman living in Abiko, near Tokyo.

The expat editor (who prefers to remain anonymous although he does have a blog harnessed the shock and horror of the catastrophe to get contributions from a wide range of people. The names featured include Yoko Ono, William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein.

The quakebook hashtag spread word about the idea of the book well before it went into production. Launched this month, the final work is a collection of essays, poetry and photographs as they relate to the magnitude 9 earthquake and its terrible aftermath.

Twitter itself sent out a tweet about #quakebook, adding to the momentum, and Yoko Ono joined in.

In an interview (using #quakechat) on Twitter this month, @ourmaninabiko told Martha Kang, a Seattle-based journalist, that within 48 hours of the putting out word about #quakebook, he had 84 expressions of interests from people.

Ono aside, other big names also became involved. William Gibson, a writer many will know as the Godfather of Cyber Punk, and who uses the @GreatDismal handle, was approached directly by the editor.

Book editor @ourmaninabiko says Gibson (writer of such seminal science fiction as Neuromancer, Count Zero and All Tomorrow’s Parties) came on board when he RTed a #quakebook tweet. “The biggest boost was Gibson sending me a DM saying he’d help out. At that moment, I knew it would be a success.”

Gibson wrote a bespoke piece, as did Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on The Police Beat in Japan, and Eisler, a bestselling American thriller writer.

“The primary goal,” said @ourmaninabiko, “is to record the moment, and in doing so raise money for the Japanese Red Cross Society to help the thousands of homeless, hungry and cold survivors of the earthquake and tsunami.

“I don’t have any medical skills, and I’m not a helicopter pilot, but I can edit. A few tweets pulled together nearly everything – all the participants, all the expertise – and in just over a week we had created a book including stories from an 80-year-old grandfather in Sendai, a couple in Canada waiting to hear if their relatives were okay, and a Japanese family who left their home, telling their young son they might never be able to return.”

Online book retailer Amazon waived all the fees and the project had lift off. German and Dutch versions are close to completion and there’s also more work to be done on the French, Spanish and Chinese versions.

It’s a great story. But it’s only one of many online fundraising initiatives that sprang up in the aftermath of the Japanese disaster. Another project is World’s 1000 Messages for Japan. Writers leave short notes on Facebook or via email which are translated by volunteers into Japanese and posted on Twitter (@Jequake1000msgs) and also on their website.

This video is also interesting. It was made by the mayor of Minamisoma and in it he appeals directly to people via YouTube for help for his quake stricken city. And it is even subtitled in English.

The quake book may become a bestseller. Or it may not. But for me it is a reminder of how an act of God and the internet can inspire and enable people to get together to create something memorable. The quake book story should be a text book case of how the internet and the social web make it possible for each of us to participate. When something terrible happens, we’re not as helpless as we may think.


Twitter Captures Japan Quake Horror

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our household first received news of the Japanese earthquake on Twitter about 7pm. There were tweets from a number of Japan-based Twitter people that it was shaking in Tokyo and buildings were swaying around. At first it didn’t seem as if there was much horror and there appeared not to be many injuries, perhaps a testament to the strength of Tokyo buildings.

A number of tweets from Beijing said that there was an earthquake in the Chinese capital. Some concluded that it was the same quake and if they felt it in Beijing, it must have been big in Japan. It was the pregnant moment when there is a growing realisation that this is going to be huge.

Then people in Tokyo started tweeting that they could see buildings on fire and some posted photos of plumes of smoke in the distance. Suddenly tweets about a tsunami warning began to multiply into a swarm and this phase morphed into real time news of a tsunami smashing into the Japan’s eastern coast near the port city of Sendai.

Soon there were tweets of links that were broadcasting a live stream on the internet. The first media outlet that caught the eye on Twitter was Al Jazeera which is having a stellar year as a news organisation with its coverage of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Al Jazeera was tweeting that it was screening live pictures on television and the internet of the wave of destruction. I checked Sky News and CNN and both were also screening the story live.

I then responded to a direct tweet from a newspaper reporter seeking New Zealanders living in Japan. I was able to help her find a friend in Abiko, near Tokyo, who had been tweeting the seriousness of the situation, but who had also included this gem: “Must be serious. Mother-in-law is wearing outside shoes IN THE HOUSE.”

But at this stage, both TV3 and TVOne had not broken from their regular Friday night scheduling. TV3 were screening Glee and TVOne had Masterchef. By flicking between them and Sky News, I just about got the moment TV3 gave up on Glee and caught up with the next big wave lined up to hit the coast.  TVOne may have been conflicted because of its sponsorship tie-ins with Masterchef. So while some of us were seeing the disaster unfold in real time moving pictures, some of us were watching a cooking show.

The tsunami images were horrific and breath-taking. The sting was not the 8.8 earthquake which certainly caused initial damage and injury but it was the destructive wall of water that followed, and which in all likelihood be found to be the main cause of the fatalities and injuries.

The story then quickly evolved into a trans-national one as people picked up on tweets that the US Geological Survey had issue a regional tsunami warning that the quake would also possibly affect countries around the western rim of the Pacific, including as west as Hawaii, and even as far south as New Zealand.

Around this time, Civil Defence in New Zealand revealed on Twitter it was having web update problems but were working on it. Later the organisation took to publishing its web updates on Google Docs. But in the meantime, its Twitter feed had proved timely and informative.

By mid-evening, TVOne got an interview with a spokesman for Civil Defence. He was asked by a reporter that some people had been asking if the Japanese urban search and rescue team that had been working in Christchurch was still in New Zealand.

I can only assume she had seen that question on Twitter because New Zealand tweeters had been asking that very question. I like to think that there is a collective feeling, in the wake of Christchurch, that we want to tell the Japanese people to take our Twitter love and sympathy. Because we know how it feels.

The latest Christchurch earthquake told on social media

February 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

A major earthquake has again struck Christchurch and this time to even more devastating effect. Again Twitter showed its value as the fastest news platform as information spread spontaneously through the Twitersphere along with images and video of the destruction.

The hashtag most used was #eqnz following on from the September earthquake that caused widespread devastation while #chch was also employed to aggregate quake tweets.

Twitpics were published in minutes. Dyedredlaura posted these images of damage and within an hour they had received thousands of views.

[Pictures by @dyedredlaura]


This one of dramatic damage to Christchurch cathedral received over 14,000 views in under an hour and subsequent information suggested that people remained trapped inside.

[Picture by @tesswoolcock]

This early video also of a rockfall flattening a building and parked cars was also posted by ypud within minutes of the initial shock.

Photos and videos were quickly picked up by the news media and republished on their websites.

Tweets also began to be circulated among the Twitter community requesting information about the safety of particular individuals, families and schools. Warnings from Civil Defence and telco companies also circulated advising worried relatives and friends to send text messages or make short calls to prevent the phone system from becoming overloaded.

By and large, the news media were quicker off the mark for this earthquake because unlike the September quake that struck before 5am on a Saturday morning, this week’s big quake occurred during lunchtime during a weekday.

News organizations were able to mobilize their reporting resources quickly using their local reporters. This was essential as Christchurch Airport had been closed by the quake and flights diverted away.

TV3, stung by criticism over its decision not to roll live coverage of the earlier quake on the same day while TVNZ did, this time did so. Both TVNZ and TV3 began live streaming from the earthquake zone on their websites. Both were effective but a bit slow to work because of understandably high user demand.

Live updates were also available on most of the main New Zealand news websites within the hour.The New Zealand Herald began theirs at 1pm which is good work considering the quake struck at 12.51pm.

Stuff website’s first entry was at 1.33pm. But a mitigating factor could have been technical issues affecting the quake-hit news room of The Press which is right next to The Square. This SOS did go out on Twitter: “All hands on deck in newsroom but we’re battling with huge tech issues. @PressNewsroom damaged, trying to update #eqnz”

Scrolling down to the beginning, TVNZ appears to have logged in its live updates that the quake struck at 12.51. It has also been running a live Twitter feed using #eqnz on its news frontpage.

Disappointingly, Radio New Zealand’s website does not appear to have the capability for publishing images or video, instead focusing on old school broadcasting, although it does utilise a live audio stream.

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