Posted January 18, 2008 12:05 am by with 4 comments

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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, 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,’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, 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,, 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.

  • As far as I am concerned, this is a great idea, especially, as you have stated, for coordination, and who knows, it might just be able to make a difference in some cases.

    Alan Johnson

  • Thanks for this article Jordan, I never knew such website existed. Added to favorites. Well, I agree with you, they may not be effective against hurricanes and co, however, I guess they may be good for informing the world of some plagues such as the MRSA strain, which is said to be the new HIV-type of virus, highly resistant to drugs and spreading rapidly, read that in the news in UK this week.

  • Nice! If I didn’t live in Arizona this would be something I’d more than likely use frequently. I’ll definitely check the website out and let my Mom!! know it exists. This is more up her alley and she’ll be able to text me with instructions on where to go and what to do.

  • Have you read Marcus’ blog – she’s the INSTEDD person working in Cambodia on the test initiative?

    Let me quote: “One of our favorite NGOs is the Khmer Software Initiative, whose vision is “a country where Cambodians can learn and use computers in their own language, a country that does not have to change to a new language in order to use computers!” We are also concerned with this question because many software applications here are only in English, including mobile phone text messaging. There are some Khmer cell phones, but their reach is still limited. A serious question we are exploring is: how will widespread access to Khmer text messaging be possible?”

    The whole idea of using SMS in the rural outreaches of a country like Cambodia to detect early outbreaks of human-to-human H5N1 is pretty ludicrous.
    Send you response to my Yahoo address!