Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jenkins V Jarvis - Can't we all get along

It's interesting to read the exchange between Allan Jenkins and Jeff Jarvis. Jenkins compares that what South Asia Quake Help has already done to the "sluggishness and burreaucracy already clogging the arteries of Relief 2.0"

To compare the two efforts is absurd. The South Asia Quake Help site is comprehensive compendium of links and resources regarding this devastating earthquake. It's entire existence is reactionary. It has numerous links to volunteer opportunities and various organizations that "may be involved in relief efforts." I'll address the challenges inherint in these resource sites later.

Relief 2.0 on the other hand appears to be an IT-driven approach to building a set of systems that can be utilized to mount relief and recovery operations in future disasters. It is nascient, in the stages of planning, and going through the process that any new system must undergo before development begins.

You call that inaction? What about all the other disasters in the world?
That Mr. Jenkins takes Mr. Jarvis to task is hypocritical. Shouldn't we then take the SEA-EAT blog team to task for not mobilizing a response to other natural disasters occuring around the world? Visit the Center for International Disaster Information to see all the world's natural disasters that need our help. Of course not! They should be applauded for deciding to apply their resources to a specific natural disaster. That's what they've chosen to do. Let's hope that they or other groups choose to build awareness around other disasters around the world as well.

Reaction Versus Proactive Planning
But the efforts of Recovery 2.0 are not focused on one disaster, regardless of the magnitude. As CEO of, a website that raises money for specific charitable projects, I am always frustrated by the fact that we can only develop new functionality so fast.

Everyday there are at least a dozen charities or charitable projects I would like our site to help but can't because the functionality required to properly assist these organizations isn't yet available, due to our limited resources and thus, limited team. Every member of our team gets frustrated when this occurs BUT our experiences as software developers reminds us what happens when a software project "feature creeps." We all know the perrils that come from reactionary development in the software world.

Let the Tsunani Be Our Lesson
In the development world, reactionary aid is even more dangerous since its consequences are far more wasteful and tragic. There are far too many stories to point to as examples of this but the amount of wasted clothing and supplies, a lot of which never even reached the intended recipients, the amount of "volunteer travellers" who required more administration and training than their output was worth, and the amount of donations unaccounted for or spent outside of its intended application show us what can happen when the proper systems and planning don't exist to handle a sudden, instantaneous outpouring of support and caring coupled with requests for assistance that span the gamut of humanitarian purpose.

React all you want but don't criticize ongoing planning processes
My bottom line here is that it's petty and entirely unproductive to first compare a reactionary resource site to an effort to create an infrastructure for handling future disaster recovery operations. Second, I take issue with the effectiveness of resource sites and point to the current S.A Quake Help Site as an example of some of the problems with blog-based resources. There is no vetting, qualification or reputation management of the organizations offered as potential places to donate, nor explanation to the donor of what to expect regarding ineligibility for tax-receipting from foreign charitable organizations. And the problems with volunteer travel is best left for an entirely seperate conversation.


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