Heart-rending stories posted on shocked survivors' blogs made the humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia more instant and visceral for the world.
Videoblogger Jordan Golson posted a set of terrifying tsunami videos to his weblog (http://jlgolson.blogspot.com) and received more than a petabyte of traffic. To keep up with the demand of the world's voracious eyes, many sites started volunteering bandwidth to mirror these amateur camcorder video files.
The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) created a Tsunami open source movie directory, but the largest depository of public domain multimedia in the world couldn't keep up with the requests, and temporarily had to remove them.
Some mirror sites were more resilient. Video blogger sites like Wave of Destruction (http://www.waveofdestruction.org) link to numerous sources for both television clips and the countless home-made camcorder videos. RocketBoom (http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/) even edited 15 of the videos into a single download.
For people interested in a wider selection, BitTorrent and the P2P networks had them all, too.
While many individuals provided extraordinary stories of their personal experiences, the technology collectives were the real heroes.
Peter Griffin, a communications consultant from Mumbai, India, created SEA-EAT, the South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami weblog (http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com) with a few blogger friends to help survivors and their families connect. Quickly, other volunteers started helping and dozens now update SEA-EAT around the clock and around the globe. It's become the starting point for a world that wants to search, learn, grieve and help.
Particularly sad is the Tsunami Missing Persons (http://tsunamimissing.blogspot.com) offshoot of SEA-EAT, which alternates regularly between posting lists of the dead and missing persons queries.
The missing persons sites and message boards that are being used in an increasingly frantic way show how beautiful and fleeting the memories in photographs can be. Digital archives like the one on the BBC message board (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/4130565.stm) and Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/groups/tsunami_help_missing/) are reminders to hug people more often.
Unfortunately, altruism has not been the only force in motion after this current.
In an inspired effort, RC Group, a Chinese biometrics company, launched a free facial recognition service for families of tsunami victims. Photographs of dead and injured taken by volunteers in hospitals and emergency centres are being loaded onto the site (http://peoplematch.rc.tv/peoplematch/), and families can also upload photos of their own missing. Whenever a close match is found, a notice is e-mailed to the relatives.
Many corporations have put their best face forward to help. Google has had a "Ways to help with tsunami relief" link on their front page since the day after, and Amazon has been strongly encouraging their customers to donate to the Red Cross (honourably subtracting no transaction fee before passing along the money).
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...), the free bottom-up community encyclopedia written and maintained by volunteer editors, unfortunately needed to include a disclaimer about the veracity of its links to various charities. Some of its users/editors had posted links to bogus organizations with names similar to well-known aid agencies.
The spurious e-mails that infuriate so many of us also started making their inevitable appearances. It took a mere 36 hours before I received my first phishing scam e-mail from "Oxfam" asking me to donate money to a bank account in Cyprus.
The worst of the worst, however, were the hoax e-mails that some bastard in London sent to people who placed appeals for information about their missing loved ones on the Sky News website. The e-mails claimed to come from the "Foreign Office Bureau" in Thailand (at a forged "email@example.com" address) and said that the missing person had been confirmed dead. Thankfully, this man was less sophisticated than he was technologically savvy and British police had him in custody within a few days.
All technical nonsense aside, it's the survivors of this horrible disaster who are going to need sincere, sustained attention and charity in the weeks to come as outbreaks of disease commence. Look for blogs to continue telling about the severe reality of trying to keep an estimated 1 million displaced people healthy.
If you're interested in making a donation, consider starting at the city's own "Toronto Cares" page (http://www.toronto.ca/tocares/).