Jan 17

Building an initiative about earthquakes

By: K.Tatakis

Two friends in Italy decided to act, as a devastating earthquake happened last August. Their initial idea was to create a group on social media but then also a website was born Terremoto Centro Italia.info. The initiative became famous as an open source platform where everyone helping or needing something in or about the devastated zones could share information and thus organize more efficiently her or his own wishes.

Matteo Tempestini and Matteo Fortini were the two friends that originally had this idea and dared the next step.

“This idea was born on August 24 (2016), when we had a very big earthquake in central Italy. We decided to create this project in order to have more information about this event.We are friends with Matteo Fortini and we always keep in touch. In the morning of August 24, we discussed in a chat and we decided to open a group on Facebook immediately and then, the day after, we created the website” Tempestini said in an interview I made with him on November 20, 2016.

“The Facebook group became popular immediately as Facebook is full of people. What we initially have done initially on Facebook, was to call people to get involved and explain what we are trying to do. We wanted to create tools to inform someone about the earthquake. It is not that simple to explain. We have a lot of associations and communities that keep in touch with us, people that are in field and explaining other people how they can use the platform we had created. This is very important. Thus we are involving people that are really in the epicenter of the earthquake. That is the most difficult thing to do but is what to be done in order to have real, first hand information about the earthquake” Tempestini explained during the interview.

“Since the beginning we had the support of organizations like Action Aid Italia that believed in this project and gave human resources to support the idea, but also open street map activists that gave tools for the emergency, like maps for people in the field. When a disaster happens in Italy people create spontaneous associations to rebuild their cities” Tempestini adds.

They even offered helped to build a similar initiative in New Zealand after an earthquake happened there recently. We don’t want to impose anything. This is a solution for aggregating information we have in social media channels and it is all open source and re-usable” Tempestini argues.

Connecting needs to offers faster is crucial

What a country can do in order to be more effective in emergencies?

“I think that Italy is very well organized to manage crises in field but in my mind there is some miscommunication sometimes, so we can now we can increase communication through Terremoto Centro Italia . If you want to improve this aspect you should create what I call the Internet of people, instead of the Internet of things. Before the crisis you have to create a network of people, the right channel to communicate something. This is very important. If the people are educated to communicate what’s happened in their community, we can really use the crowd-sourcing afterwards. If you combine the real needs in crisis and the offers existing, then you can solve the problems much faster” Tempestini declares passionately.

Matteo Fortini starts his own narration about the initiative: “It was in the morning of August the 24th when we were watching news about the earthquake. I live in a place which was hit by an earthquake in 2012 so I lived the fact that we need quick information about what was happening and what to do and we talk about that with Tempestini. Both of us were on Twitter and Facebook, on social media. We were seeing that on Twitter, I found that Twitter was a very powerful source of information , there were different sources but not talking at the same time. There was not a single source of information to find together everything related to the earthquake, on social media. Tempestini opened very quickly a Facebook group to try to share information in a more organized way and after that we followed with Twitter,Telegram and everything else”.

In just three months since its opening Terremoto Centro Italia.info became an established initiative in Italy.

“My closest friends were more on-line than off-line. They jumped on the project and started helping in the ways they were able to. One of the strengths of this project is that everyone contributes on what she or he can do best. There are people taking care of social media, others writing code and whatever else. I had friends that helped me a lot, not virtual, but real friends that I connect through social media that helped me a lot” Fortini explains in an interview I made with him on November 20, 2016.

Even in countries which developed sophisticated systems for emergencies, a multiplatform that grabs and organizes information can give great assist:

“We have in Italy a Civil Protection (Protezione Civile) which is very well organized, but they need to take very clear steps in order to help. When the earthquake happened media like TV crews were going to interview persons under rumble and they were telling people to call emergency numbers, but the telephone could not run as efficiently in the very first moments, as telephone lines were extremely crowded.

We thought in that moment Social media as a way to share information and to share issues that we were finding. Redundancy (duplicating things in order to increase reliability) is the best in these cases. We don’t want to overtake any other channel of communication but we want to try together and to get a redundancy about the different sources of information in order to get the information to the right place as quickly as we can” Fortini said.

How they got connected to local people? Fortini gives an example:

“We met some people from the affected area, very young guys which formed the association Chiedi alla Polvere / Ask the Dust, very young people with interest of staying there and helping people in that place which I think is very meaningful”.

“Around 20 persons help as volunteers every day but altogether approximately 50 people help when they are asked” replied Fortini when asked on November about the number of persons involved.

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Dec 16

ICT in social change: starting from a personal point of view

By Athanasia K.

In our days ICT technology advances with rhythms that are difficult to follow even for the high-tech passionates and professionals.

As I was reading the materials for the course’s assignments, this sentence caught my attention: no technology, including Big Data, is inherently good or bad for development, which was said by Kranzberg in 1986, as cited by Hilbert.

This reminded me one of my old high-school teachers and one of his favourite sayings, which was kind of a “trademark” for his science classes. He used to say to us that “technology is like a knife, you can cut bread with it and feed your family, or you can stub and kill someone with it. Whether it will be used for good or for evil, it’s all in the hand who holds it”.

This was at a time when mobile phones were just starting to enter in our everyday lives. When Google was an new, unknown spin-off company with 3-4 employees working in a garage somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic. When “social media” did not exist, when “twitter” only meant the sound of birds and “facebook” was still a nice memory of our high-school graduation year (even for Mark Zuckenberg who was only an elementary school boy at that time). In other words, when the “virtual” was far less than the “actual” in our lives.

Fast forwarding to the present, one cannot but observe the key role of ICT ended up playing in our lives, both as individuals and as society in ways that would have seem unimaginable less than two decades ago. How many of us do we really remember how science-fiction sounded when one was saying that “one day we will use our phones to send pictures” or to even “see each other when speaking”? Or how our life was without Google or Wikipedia always ready to answer any of our questions? Or how we could live our lives without internet or mobile phones at all? At least I had to force myself to remember how life was back then in my high school years when I now read old articles from that time, like this one from BBC.

But what sounded completely as a science fiction in my ears at the beginning of our century, is in less than a decade a reality. A reality which many of us in the developed world take almost for granted, as it has always been like this, or is for most people in this world. Which could be the case, since nowadays the use of high-tech ICT tools and devices is not only omnipresent in small or big aspects of our life, but also almost a necessity. And either consciously, or completely ignorant, we are all creating this necessity in our daily lives via our behaviour and choices we make.

From a high-school girl twitting about a music concert and adding “friends” on her facebook page, to the break-out of the “Arab spring” and the “occupy” -like movements, the use of social networks is increasingly influencing the way we think, behave and relate to others. From a stressed father who tries to find his way to their family’s vacation hotel in an unknown city, to a refugee who tries to avoid conflict zones on his journey to safer place, the use of geolocation systems are more and more a necessity for organising and living our lives.

These technological advances and the full use of what ICT has to offer come as natural for some. However, for others these are still a science-fiction dream to catch since the gap between technologically developed and less developed societies is still far from closed. In either case, the applications of high-tech ICT developments come with many opportunities as well as challenges for ourselves as individuals and for the societies we live in.

These impacts, opportunities and challenges of new ICT developments in our lives is what I will try to discuss in my forthcoming series of posts in this blog, focusing on what is called “Big Data“.