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Social Networking HEART Haiti

Contrary to popular belief, there are still a significant number of people who have no idea what social networking entails. To assist those who are not in the know, perhaps the mention of services such as MySpace or Facebook might help them grasp the concept. Or, if you really want to throw them for a loop, simply ask, “Hey, do you tweet?”

The premise behind social networking is really simple at its best, and overly complex at its worst. The idea is you exist in a virtual room, surrounded by other people to whom you share the same interests or ideals. Depending on the social network site you’re speaking about, you embark on numerous actives. These wide spans of activities vary from social games to simple status update and comment systems. Although some social networking sites are thought to be nothing more than a successor to yesteryear’s user motivated web spaces like the once mighty geocities, sites like Facebook and Twitter are beginning to prove their worth.

Before crossing over, those among us who previously never cared to indulge in social networking had a very limited understanding of what it was. I’ve heard it described in many ways, from a gathering of shallow individuals monitoring each other’s lives, to simply time-consuming and childish. Trying to explain the bliss that is social networking to someone with this mindset is almost impossible.

By now, I am sure we are all aware of the devastating earthquake and series of aftershocks that have shaken Haiti to its core. As each day passes, the reality of it all is truly heart breaking, but there are many silver linings in this cloud, one of which is none other than social networking.

I almost never tune in to CNN or any other major news outlet at the end of my day. Instead, my habits include a great deal of social networking and some geeking on the side. The afternoon of the quake, I was made aware of the events in Haiti by a friend’s Facebook status update. It was a simple and powerful update: “I am hoping and praying my father and sisters are alright in Haiti.” That was more than enough cause for alarm. As I reached for the phone, I started to notice the status updates directly below his. They were all very similar. While I had my friend on the phone explaining the situation to me, I received a tweet from the CNNbrk news Twitter account. CNN had already had a post up, as well as live video streams. And so the information and emotional overload began.

After an hour of me receiving the news, CNN had managed to push out several breaking news segments. But somehow that wasn’t enough. I suddenly found myself paying more attention to my Twitter stream, and in doing so I discovered a really interesting development. The Haitian-born musician and producer, Wyclef Jean, had started a donation campaign for the earthquake victims. His method of choice was fittingly clever. To donate $5 to the cause, all you had to do was text the word “Yele” to the number 501501. I am not sure exactly when the effort was established, but in the shadow of all that was going on, it seemed almost instant. The $5 fee would be charged to your cell phone bill. What made this so clever is the thought that most people wouldn’t think twice about doing it because they didn’t have to actually go anywhere or inconvenience themselves to donate. It also meant the money was routed to the cause almost instantly. This message was re-tweeted like wild fire in the Twitterverse. Almost everyone had something simple to say “RT Text Yele to 501501 to donate to Haiti.”

Right on the heels of the Wyclef effort, the Red Cross’ Donation tweet began popping up everywhere as well. “Text HAITI to 90999” is all it said, and that short message was equally as powerful. As one would expect, tweeters had a lot to say, much of which were tweets of concern and emotions. But even with the emotional weight, people never seem to forget to re-tweet the two donation efforts. It was truly amazing. Even in the hours and days to follow, you could still find people re-tweeting the donation solicitations.

Major news publications also used Twitter to update the public on the latest developments. Even CNN, who had a full blown live coverage going on, kept its Twitter followers updated regularly. Twitter had turned into a vital information hub, a RSS feed if you will. I was able to gather information from all over and pass it along to those who needed it most. All of which was almost instant.

But Twitter wasn’t alone in this phenomenon. Facebook was also flooded with content. Because of Twitter’s 160 character limitation, people weren’t always able to completely share what they needed to. Facebook however, with its content rich feature set, provided in every way what Twitter could not. People were posting pictures of the destruction, linking to videos and live streams of the disaster. There were even Facebook groups created for the cause, where people could post prayers, concerns and comforts for each other. It was interesting to see how people’s status updates quickly turned into discussion threads full of praise and hope. Each status update invoked a stream of positive comments that kept the strength and hope alive for the people of Haiti.

Even though the traditional blog and publication websites still had a very strong presence in the coverage, it was clear that the social networking infrastructures pushed content delivery to a new level. Within minutes of new developments, millions of people knew about it no matter where they were. It has been reported that $23 million of the $220 million the Red Cross was able to raise came directly from its text donation method. I can’t help but think that social networking played a huge role in spreading the word and getting more people involved.

For the many among us who are currently involved in social networking, it has revealed a whole new value. And for the rest of us who had no interest, it is harder than ever to ignore the advantages social networking has to offer. Given the tragedy currently playing out in Haiti, and the wealth of information and speed at which it is delivered via social network, it will take very little effort to help those not interested understand why we can’t get away from Facebook or Twitter.

Never before could you instantly comfort a distant family member or fellow countryman. Social networking has greatly increased the speed with which the world is informed of not only what is happening, but what people can do to help those in need.

Perhaps the one aspect of it all that we might have taken for granted is the fact that this is all available to us on our mobile devices. Facebook and Twitter clients are available to just about every smartphone platform on the market. Not even the feature phones we mock are left out. We have indeed entered a new age of content delivery, and social networking will be, without a doubt, at the forefront of the movement.

One a personal note, I have several friends who call the country of Haiti home. I’d like to offer to all of you my comfort and support whenever you may need it. Anyone who wishes to help, the text messaging methods mentioned in the post are still active, so please feel free to donate to a country that really needs your help. On behalf of all the staff here at, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.