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Not too long ago now, bad things happened to Haiti. And not just the usual bad things, which are pretty bad – Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere (and the fact that the hemispherical distinction is made should tell you a few things about poverty in other parts of the world). I am talking, of course, about the earthquake and the resultant aftershocks.
Like most other Americans (I suppose), I heard about it in the news, and I closed my eyes and dropped my head and spent some time mourning for people I had never met.
I then considered what I could do to make things better and, again like most Americans (I suppose), I came to the conclusion that I should just throw some money at the situation.
Shortly thereafter, though, I caught wind of a bit of a movement (for want of a better word). Map Dorks had taken a good look at the existing maps of Haiti, and had found them wanting. And so the call went forth to all Map Dorks: Relief efforts in Haiti need accurate maps.
And let me tell you, boys and girls, the Map Dorks stepped up. With the help of imagery provided by the likes of Yahoo, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye (who acquired satellite imagery the day after the initial quake), armies of mappers converged on Open Street Map and kicked serious ass all over Haiti. In the space of a day the maps of Port-au-Prince went from looking like a hill town in upstate New York (disclaimer: I LOVE hill towns in upstate New York) to looking like Manhattan. And they are accurate in ways that maps of Haiti have never been. Within a day a Garmin IMG file was produced and a day after that someone whipped up an iPhone app to leverage the OSM data for use on the ground. And we (Map Dorks, I mean) haven’t stopped. My life is crowded these days, but I can still find the time to give an hour or two to Haiti every day. It really isn’t that hard to do. And I think it’s rather more significant to the people on the ground in Haiti than the 20 bucks I can afford to send.
But this is all beside the point. The point is the response to this crisis of Map Dorkia, who – for better or worse – are (on some level, at least) my people. And my people have behaved admirably in this situation. There are a couple who have been especially helpful and noteworthy (I’m talking about you, Kate and Dave), but while they are unique they are not unusual amongst Map Dorks. When the call went out, many answered.
And because of that, I am very, very, proud of my people.
I’ve been using Twitter for a while now. I’m not a die-hard convert, and I’m probably only connected for an hour or so a day. On most days, I don’t Tweet at all. Truth be told, I’ve only been dabbling in it for two reasons: the first is that I’m thrilled by the 140 character limit. I’m a big fan of any device that forces people to get to the point. The second reason is that I want to see the purpose Twitter eventually finds for itself. As a medium, it’s still pretty young, and it hasn’t yet found its purpose.
I know there are many of you out there that will tell me that Twitter is a Great Business Tool. In response, I’m inclined to say: Crap. ‘It’s a great business tool’ is one of the Two Great Technological Justifications. The other is ‘It has many educational applications’. Again, crap. These are things we say when we’re afraid to say that we like something simply because it’s cool. And make no mistake – technology is cool. The ‘wow’ factor is probably the second most powerful force behind technological development (the first, of course, being money).
But I must admit that there is some merit to the Twitter-as-business-tool argument. As a Map Dork, I follow many other Map Dorks on Twitter, and I often learn pertinent, valuable and (above all) timely tidbits of information about the goings-on in the Map Dork world (Mapocron Dorkia IV). To be honest, though, I read far more about food and booze than I do about maps. But maybe that applies to all disciplines, on one level or another.
There is one particular area, though, where Twitter can really shine as a business tool. On two separate occasions, I have tweeted my frustration over my failure to use an application in the manner that suited my fancy. On both of those occasions, my tweet generated an unsolicited response from one of the people closely associated with the application in question. Both scenarios happened out of the blue, and both led to a protracted session of tech support, supplied courtesy of Twitter.
Twitter happens in near-realtime, and its API makes it possible to track any subject being tweeted about (yes, folks – I hear about it every time you talk about me). In both of these situations, the people I talked to took advantage of these aspects of Twitter to provide swift and active (I loathe the so-called word ‘proactive’. It’s jargon, pure and simple, and it’s almost always used to mean ‘active’) support for a product. Granted – in one of these cases the support was supplied for love of the applications and out of simple common decency (thanks, Steve), but that just serves to make it more valuable and appreciated.
So this is where I think Twitter really can be a Great Business Tool. The ability to supply customer support BEFORE IT’S EVEN ASKED FOR is the kind of public relations that can move mountains. It’s like having Jedi Knights arrive to lend a hand just because they felt a disturbance in the Force.