The Net Pulls Together on Tsunami Efforts

Indeed, at some blogs, participants are giving the Net a glimpse of the disaster that would not be covered by other media outlets.

At ChiensSansFrontiers (desimediabitch.blogspot.com), eyewitnesses in Sri Lanka send in accounts of recovery efforts using SMS text messages from their cell phones. The latest entries told of a mass funeral pyre to dispose of 25 bodies in the coastal village of Mullaitivu.

"I wish I could go into detail about what I saw there, but I can't," wrote a poster known as Morquendi. "The smell there was worse than at the Karapitiya Hospital. But here I got used to it. After some time I couldn't feel it anymore. Later I realised I couldn't feel anything anymore."

More Organized Efforts

Rheingold says such intimacy in news and information is helping to fill a gap that traditional relief agencies and media outlets just can't handle right now.

"I think the really important stuff about all this, is that agencies are overwhelmed," says Rheingold. "If your cousin is alive and can get an SMS out that he's alive, that's important to you. But getting information out about [missing] people, that's secondary to people in immediate need of medical care now. And that's slightly less immediate to taking care of hygiene. And all that is stuff that they need to do."

That's why Rheingold believe that the Net has taken such a strong hold -- even among relief organizations themselves.

Save the Children reports that more than half of the $5 million the organization has received for tsunami relief efforts came from direct Web contributions. Online retailing giant Amazon.com has raised more than $5 million in contributions to the American Red Cross via its Web site.

In fact, some organizations were literally overwhelmed by the generosity of Web surfers.

"We did experience problems on our first day with our Web site," said Mark Melia, who directs fund raising for Catholic Relief Services. "Normally we receive less than a million dollars a year via our Web site and within the last two days, we've received already more than $2 million."

But for Rheingold, such efforts are just the beginning of the evolutionary steps the Net can bring to relief organizations.

"Getting money to people is important. But who knows where someone can get a truck to the airfield to get the supplies? That's important too," says Rheingold. "You're going to see efforts on people who have done this on an ad-hoc basic."

Rheingold says he personally knows of an acquaintance in Sri Lanka who has used the Net to arrange for just such logistical needs. "They're already mobilized to get relief, to get what they need to get where it needs to go so they hit the ground running."

"I think one important takeaway for the future is that this is a wake-up call for self-organized relief efforts," says Rheingold. "There is going to be more organized efforts to make it more effective."

Jim Hickey of ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report.

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