At first I had no idea what was happening; suddenly, a raft of messages with the letters PEA (in capital letters, as shown) started appearing across my Twitterspace. Laura Athavale Fitton, who’s usually clued up on these things, filled me in on what was happening. [Thanks, Laura].
Short version: Susan Reynolds, “author, painter, designer and Relationship Media Maven,” was diagnosed, unexpectedly, as having breast cancer. Read her story here and here. Make no mistake, this story is not about Twitter, it’s about Susan, her family and friends, her community, how she responded to the crisis, how they responded. Twitter helped, helped by providing a web-based low-cost infrastructure that could mobilise support quickly and effectively. All communications related to Susan’s situation were preceded with the word PEA; if you wanted to know how she was, all you had to do was to follow PEAple, an avatar set up for this purpose. Susan’s description of what she needed to do to allay the pain, using frozen peas, led not just to this, but to a Frozen Pea Friday Flickr group and to a Frozen Pea Donation Fund.
Note: If you want to help with a donation, please go to the Frozen Pea Fund here.
I don’t know Susan personally, but I learnt about her and about her condition via Twitter, more specifically via people I followed on Twitter who knew her and her story. My thoughts and prayers are with Susan and her family.
As you may have inferred from the above example, Twitter seems to have merit when used as a communications vehicle in an emergency. What makes it different from other emergency communications vehicles? I think three things stand out.
One, it’s non-hierarchical, based on networks of people rather than command-and-control structures. Two, partly because of this non-hierarchy, and partly because it’s based on the web, it’s fast. Three, again because it’s based on the web and uses web standards, it’s cheap, efficient and platform/device agnostic.
Not surprisingly, Twitter proved popular during the California wildfires in October 2007, for all the reasons cited above. But perhaps a little surprisingly, the Los Angeles Fire Department decided to set up and use a Twitter feed as part and parcel of its emergency communications processes. I shall watch their usage with great interest. Thank you, whoever in the LAFD decided to be open about using such technologies.
To be continued.