As authorities scrambled in the wake of Katrina, media technology was being harnessed by ordinary citizens to assist the displaced. With no official mandate, central organizing principle, or pay, Internet users compiled lists, message boards, and lists of lists and message boards. BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis tells Bob about Recovery 2.0, an effort to consolidate the relief efforts and prepare better for the future.
BOB GARFIELD: When the levees broke and the water rose, it was reporters on the ground in coordination with their news organizations based in New York City, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere who were able to start piecing the picture together. They were equipped and trained and had the right instincts. National authorities were not and did not. In the aftermath the calculus appears much the same. While authorities scramble, media technology is being harnessed at a grass roots level to start solving the problems of displacement. Jeff Jarvis says the users of the Web have to be even better prepared next time. He joins me now. Jeff, welcome back to the show.
JEFF JARVIS: Hi, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, tell me the net environment out there in the wake of Katrina. What has sprung up?
JEFF JARVIS: There are a lot of really good efforts to bring people together. If you go to nola.com, associated with the newspaper the Times Picayune, there's a board where family members can go and search for their missing relatives. There's another board where people can say "I'm okay." There's another board where people can try to get help with their pets. There are even boards now where people are going up saying, "I'm still out here. Please rescue me." There are similar efforts at the TV stations. The Red Cross has those. There are a lot of those. And so Yahoo came along and tried to create a kind of a meta search of those. And there are some other really neat efforts out there: Craigslist -- people came along and offered apartments. Then moveon.org did a great effort to allow people to offer homes. There is even a Skype phone room where people can call in and have someone there who's connected answer their questions or find things, and that's just starting. There are a tremendous number of disparate efforts.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you have often spoken and written about the key to the Internet being how decentralized it is. In the midst of a catastrophe like this though, is the Internet so diffused, notwithstanding any linking that's going on, that 50 boards are not as useful as one centralized site where everybody can turn?
JEFF JARVIS: I think that is an issue. I think that's something we have to fix. The "Web 1.0" and "Life 1.0" way to look at this is, well, let's just have one official agency of the missing and all go there. But that's not the way life operates. People will gravitate around their own communities, their churches, their newspapers, whatever. What we at the Internet need to do is find ways to make better connections. There's one effort to create a new data standard for missing people records. There was another effort out there to take the data on all these fifty plus boards and retype it manually into one database to try to make the connections. We can do better than that, I think, though.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you're in the thick of one such effort, an idea you had called "Recovery 2.0." What would it do?
JEFF JARVIS: I'm not really sure yet. All it would do is bring people together who were smart, who were trying to figure this out. There are really about four needs. We need to find better ways to gather and disseminate information by any medium, by SMS to bulletin board to Skype phone room to whatever. So information is one. Two is the need to make connections -- people to people, people to apartments, people to food, people to jobs. So that's two. Number three is trying to allow people to collaborate. And number four is we've got to get connectivity and technology out there. There are computers and Wi Fi networks being brought to the Astrodome. We, the geeks, should be taking our laptops and trying to help people get online and do whatever we can to connect people to these great resources. So my hope is Recovery 2.0, which is really a recovery2.org, is just a Wiki where various of these smart people can come in and change a page and add what they think. At a meeting that's going to occur in San Francisco at the Web 2.0 conference in October, all I'm trying to do is to bring the smart people together and start to swarm around standards and efforts. And that's what the Internet also does well is that the diffusion of creativity happens but then we bring people together around the things that work.
BOB GARFIELD: As this evolves, will the government's role diminish? Will we need to turn to the government in times of crisis to the extent that we do now?
JEFF JARVIS: Isn't the government just the people, Bob? Isn't it better if we can rely on all of our neighbors; if our neighbors are brought together with the resources that are necessary that we can bring in police and churches and hospitals and whatever we need to solve a problem? I think that's a better way to do things. And so how can we open source our society? How can we open source government and relief and enable people to do things efficiently so we don't have 50 different means to find the missing? We have one coordinated means to use 500 great ideas. If the government doesn't do it, maybe we can. And what we have to do as a people is not just demand better from government but also demand better from ourselves and use these tools and make them available and show the way. We have to lead the government and not wait to be led.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Jeff, as always, thanks very much.
JEFF JARVIS: Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Jarvis consults at about.com, blogs at buzzmachine.com. Jeff mentioned sites. We will link to that on onthemedia.org.