InSTEDD using GeoRSS in Disaster Response Tools

x-posted to the GeoRSS weblog

InSTEDD is an “NGO Startup” formed by Larry Brilliant in 2006, focused on building and distributing innovative technology for humanitarian response. Dr. Brilliant is now the head of, which provided seed funding for the organization. InSTEDD emerged from a year of relative quiet, releasing some simple and elegant tools. Their approach so far appears to be reuse of the best of Web 2.0 for humanitarian response.

SMS Geo-Chat builds location based chat on top of SMS, with visualization in Google Earth, and wider distribution of data with GeoRSS (hence the posting here). This is developed further in Contacts Nearby, which leverages the multi-modal communication of Twitter and the social network of Facebook.

If this sounds just a little like TwitterVision, it’s not surprising, I reckon the influence is there and that’s a very good thing; the innovation and ideas in this field are out there, and what’s really needed is a channel to get the clever hacks into the hands of responders. We’ve discussed and worked with GeoRSS for disaster response for a couple years (National Geographic had a good summary in 2006). There’s been discussions of Twitter in dsiaster response since it’s launch; SMS is the last communication channel to go down in an emergency, and the first to come back up. And Twitter is multi-modal, easily connecting SMS potentially to any other channel. These ideas had a good workout during the San Diego fires.

Just a couple critiques. The format they used to encode location in Twitter is “lat*lon*message”; rather than the nanoformats (“l:lat,lon”) used in TwitterVision and Bangladesh Boat Journey. I think nanoformats are potentially more flexible and already being used, so why invent a new format. Also, I’m not sure why they chose to code their projects in — are most humanitarian response organizations running msft products? Or is it because some of the core team come from Microsoft? Hopefully there’s scope for full open source solutions in the future.