Thursday, February 24, 2011

The age of social media convergence

We have truly entered the age of social media convergence. At each significant event around the world, from the birth of Ushadidi in Kenya in 2008, to the Haiti earthquake, to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, to the most recent disaster in New Zealand, the growing role of social media platforms and the mobile technologies that make them efficient and omnipresent tools cannot be denied.

I cannot fathom why some observers chose to minimize the role of SM in these events. While not the cause of the revolution in North Africa and the Middle East, social media is certainly the mobilization channel that made these event a vast popular movement.

Here's Wahel Ghonim, one of the face of this so-called "cloud" leaderless revolution:

Okay so here it is ... the three convergence vectors:

  1. mobile devices and technologies
  2. social media platforms and the willingness of people to share their experiences and opinions
  3. a new era of volunteerism ... both in the digital word and on the ground ... people help, create, and build powerful networks.
Let me illustrate my point and talk a little bit more about each of the three converging trends.

First, mobile devices and technologies ... the ubiquitous cells phones, smart phones and all the infrastructure that make them work. Even when repressive regimes try to shut them down, it doesn't work ... 

Very smart people come up with technical work-around fixes that get the news out such as the Google voice-to-tweet or giving Yemeni youth the ability to be heard around the world.

And this trend toward mobile Internet consumption is only accelerating: 

That's the first vector of convergence ... the second is social media.

People use social media in emergencies to communicate, share their experiences and provide valuable information to one another. They also expect authorities to use social media to inform them during a disaster as a recent American Red Cross survey indicated. Here are some ways social media is used in emergencies.

This illustrates it well too:

In the first few hours of a major disaster, when infrastructure might be affected, people now turn to social media as a source of information. The power of SM platforms like Twitter and Facebook grows with adversity when people want to grasp any little bit of information that might help them get through stressful times, find out if relatives are safe and so on.

People turn to FB and Twitter because the information is there ... provided either by authorities or volunteers. Christchurch shows that in spades. It forces those responsible for helping to monitor social media and use these platforms to be effective. Old ways are no longer sufficient, as the US Navy discovered during the response to the Haitian earthquake in early 2010 and key briefing documents quickly got overtaken by info provided through social media.

Social media also provides a mobilization tool that's unequaled in rapidity and effectiveness. One stereotype after another is falling in the aftermath of the New Zealand earthquake. Youth who spend a lot of time online are in fact MORE likely to volunteer and engage in their community ... not less.

This means that Christchurch is now the battleground of a 9,000-strong student volunteer army mobilized through Facebook. 

This brings us to the third and final convergence vector: volunteerism ... Mobile technologies, GIS mapping, cameras, smart phones ... social media platforms (including Skype and others) now offer a tool to mobilize resources from all continents ... often more quickly than what local authorities can call up in short notice.

The whole crisis mapping community has done extraordinary work in the New Zealand earthquake response. Recognition is coming from all corners and from the people affected by the disaster. The information provided in helping people and authorities with regular updates and with new elements being added whenever relevant.

The miracle is that these sites came about very quickly ... in an hour or two following the tremor.

All this illustrates a new age, not only for disaster and emergency response but also for how we look at our world and for us, as citizens of this planet, we chose to make a difference. This convergence of technology, communication and engagement is changing the face our world.

Clay Shirky talks about that in his "Cognitive Surplus" address.

I hope this makes sense to you and look forward to  your comments.

1 comment:

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