Admit it: when you saw “InSTEDD,” you thought, “Great, another ‘kr8tiv’ spelling for a Web 2.0 flop-to-be.” How’s this for a mission statement:
We want everyone to benefit from the tools and technologies we know can save lives.
Like what? Ultrasounds? EKGs?
No, Facebook. Duh.
While InSTEDD is decidedly Web 2.0-y, and decidedly misspelled, it’s not as useless as most Web 2.0 flops—and it comes with a pretty good pedigree. It’s an NPO, formally named Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disaster, is designed to leverage (sorry, the Web 2.0-iness got to me) social networks to help “identify and warn others of outbreaks like Avian flu or disasters like Hurricane Katrina.”
In addition to its other initiatives, Google.org has invested $5 million in InSTEDD. The initiative will leverage (argh) social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
However, right now I’m not seeing a ton of benefit to that particular aspect of the plan. If you’ve ever lived through a hurricane, you know you can’t go twenty minutes without hearing about it from someone (and a lot of the time it’s a newscaster) (and very obnoxious). Hurricanes are, generally, slow-moving things. But countless natural disasters occur without warning. Will Facebook save you from a flash flood? Will Twitter save you from a Twister?
Unless they’ll be recruiting their own meteorologists and epidemiologists (incidentally, Google.org’s executive director is an epidemiologist), I’m not sure that Facebook and Twitter are going to be a more efficient method for warning people of impending danger—unless we’re worried about saving the 24/7 Facebook addicts. What I do see potential for is coordinating volunteers and support.
Luckily, so do they. According to CNET, Google.org Executive Director Dr. Larry Brilliant says:
“We can send an SMS message onto Google Earth in an emergency center, and it sees a dot with a color-coded response, with my name and date. Right underneath that, there’s a button that says reply, and (aid workers can send a note that says) we have the resources you need 2 miles north…Suddenly there’s a two-way conversation using nothing but a cell phone with one bar,” he said, adding: “We’ve done this.”
InSTEDD itself has been around for some time, but their website, InSTEDD.org, launches today, “with early versions of open-source software that can be downloaded and tested,” according to CNET.
Can social networks really make a difference in the world? Let’s find out.