reported last week, groups of hackers from all around the world got together this weekend to find ways to help Haiti and to create tools that can be used in future disasters. One of these groups, in collaboration with Project EPIC, developed a new syntax to make it easier for computers to read tweets from areas that are affected by a disaster. If adopted widely, this new hashtag-based syntax will make it easier to automatically extract data about locations or the status of a road or person.As we
A vast number of status updates from Haiti were posted on Twitter in the last few days. As Chris Messina pointed out in a discussion on the Activity Streams mailing list earlier today, the lack of standardized metadata means that we currently have little choice but to use stopgap mechanisms like this new hashtag-based syntax to syndicate this kind of information into a computer-readable form.
- #need [explain the needs using the appropriate keywords below]
- #offering or #offer or #have [explain what you have using appropriate keywords below]
- #imok [name]
- #ruok [name]
- #trapped [name]
- #injured [name]
- #open [write what is open, a road? a hospital? a store?]
- #closed [write what is closed? a road? a shelter?]
How Does it Work
The new syntax is pretty easy to learn. Every tweet should contain at least one main tag like #need [explain need], #offering or #injured [name]. You can find a full list of main tags here. In addition, tweets can also have data tags like #name [name], #loc [location] or #contact [email, phone etc.]. These tweets can also contain often-used keywords that don't need the hashtag sign like food, supplies, road, hospital or help.
Here are some real-world examples of this new syntax being used in Haiti:
- #haiti #need security #loc General Hospital PAP #contact @thehatian
- #haiti #need water #loc Orphanage Foyer de Sion #contact @robinbauer #src @AnnCurry
- Can you deliver beans rice water to orphanage? #Haiti #Need Food #Contact: @childhopeintl #Loc: Delmas 75, Rue Cassagnol #14, PaP BLESS YOU
We aren't aware of any tools that read these tweets yet, but it's easy to imagine a Google Maps mashup that can show the locations of where people need help.
If you would like to help the Project EPIC and Crisis Camp teams out, have a look at the groups' website, which lists a number of ways to get involved in this project, ranging from translating tweets into the new hashtag format, to building applications that can collect the data from these tweets.