Digital mapping tools and the power of citizen journalists

Mar 10 •

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More and more, mapping tools are being used for real-time data collection. Some of the slickest - and most helpful - uses have been in the area of crisis warning and humanitarian issues. To be able to centralize and contextualize information from seemingly random places and from a variety of different platforms has multiple benefits.

Officially launched in late Fall 2008 (just in time for the San Francisco fires), CrisisWire is the brain child of Nate Ritter, who popularized the hashtag on Twitter. During the San Diego fires of 2007, he used #sandiegofire to document his experience and offer on-the-ground updates during the crisis. This combined with Twitter’s various search capabilities enabled people in the area to receive pertinent information about what was happening in real-time - information that mainstream media wasn’t able to provide at such a detailed or timely level.


From this came the idea of CrisisWire. Using a mix of tools - including Google Maps, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr, SMS and news websites - it aggregates as much information as it can concerning a specific crisis or disaster. Text, photos and videos tagged with specific keywords appear on one page so a clear picture of what is currently happening is possible. Then they are mapped based on location.

As Nate explains to Mashable’s Mark Hopkins, “During a disaster people spend valuable time searching the Internet and waiting for the media to report on their city, their neighborhood, their street. While mainstream media serves a vital role during disasters, it is impossible to update the population on everything that is happening during a crisis.”

Source: Pop! Tech, Buckminster Fuller Institute

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