Using Twitter to help Haiti

Recently a vacation site, Haiti.com has been transformed, now allowing anyone to filter through Twitter reports from Haiti and send the information on to relief workers.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

So, you've donated your $10 to relief efforts in Haiti via text message on your mobile phone and you want to do more to help. A Web site launched this week allows anyone with an Internet connection to help collect information from people on the ground in Haiti and distribute it to relief workers there.

Haiti Live has an embedded Twitter stream with tweets from Haiti with information on things like where medical supplies are needed and what local infrastructure is like in particular areas. Visitors to the site read the Twitter news stream, and when they see an item that would be worth reporting to disaster workers they can check if it has already been reported on an interactive map and report it if it hasn't.

The Red Cross and other nongovernmental organizations are accessing the site to get information that is helping them in their relief efforts, said Josh Rosen, who conceived of the idea and launched the site with three others in less than 24 hours.

"Now you don't have to just give money to help Haiti; you can go to this site," he said. "We tried to do this after the tsunami (in Southeast Asia in 2005) and we couldn't because there was no Twitter."

Another site offering people information on how to help in Haiti without leaving home is Change.org. One way to help is by going to the Haiti Earthquake Support Center and help identify missing people in photos taken by journalists and relief workers.

The Haiti Live site is partnering with Ushahidi, an open-source project that allows people to crowdsource crisis information using mobile devices. It had 10,000 unique visits on Tuesday, its first full day of operation, Rosen said.

"Information just like you are helping find for Haiti has previously been used to track and quell violence in Kenya, and to help responders address crisis situations in the Congo, India, South Africa and many other countries," the Haiti Live site says.

Until recently, Haiti.com was a vacation site. After the initial earthquake, the owners of the site contacted Rosen and a few others asking for suggestions for how to make the site a useful resource to help the relief effort. Rosen and his partners then formed the idea to let Internet users turn tweets into useful information.

Rosen, a serial entrepreneur of Web companies, including iLeonardo.com, was able to register more than 300,000 Americans to vote in the last few months leading up to the 2004 elections with his Just Vote site.

Asked what the Internet connectivity is like in Haiti, Rosen said: "That's a pretty good question. We'll find out."

Updated 10:54 a.m. PST with information on another site to help identify missing persons in Haiti from photographs.

Once a vacation site, Haiti Live has been transformed into a resource for aid workers. Screenshot by CNET