Saturday, September 10, 2005

Behind the scenes at the KatrinaHelp wiki

An email from Larry Ranley (l.ranly AT wlapc DOT com), one of the people who has not only been helping with the wiki, but who has also made a financial contribution to help cover hosting costs.

I would be proud to have my name listed as a part of this amazing effort. I don't have a company to list or a home page or web site to link.

I would like to take the opportunity to let the leaders of this project know what lead me to make a monetary donation to it.

Last Saturday I was looking for someway to volunteer help even though I was remote from the disaster or the people needing help.

I sensed the power of mobilizing a giant workforce of volunteers if someone knew how to set it up and could figure out how to break down the tasks so they could be done over the internet. In my imagination it would involve using the internet to match missing people to people searching and would be similar to the genealogical research that I have been doing (matching parents to children). So I started doing google searches in order to find a web site that could use my talent for spending hours doing tedious searches through the internet for matching names as I do with the genealogy searches.

Two things quickly became clear to me. The first was that I was probably not going to find a website in which I could use the internet as a tool for helping out. The second was that the organization of "people matching" and the organization of offers and requests for assistance (volunteering help, housing etc.) had a bad need for organization in order for the offers and requests to be effectively matched. This was especially true when it seemed as though 999 out of 1000 returns from my google searches including the word "volunteer" was about monetary donations.

After a day of searching, The PeopleFinder Project was the only site I found that provided internet volunteering opportunities, but unfortunately it was at the point when the data entering computer was in melt down. As instructed, I checked back Labor Day and joined in the name entering effort. In the course of the evening while entering names I was amazed at how the design of the site was evolving as it anticipated and stayed one step ahead of the data entry effort. The simple "how to" instructions for entering names was further clarified with a diagram, and again further clarified with a video instruction. The graphics of the first basic data entry form was updated several times making its organization appear more clear. (Evidently the required data entry categorys required to meet future needs were anticipated and identified at the beginning.) Over the course of the evening, new tabs appeared on the website to include other relief resources and organize the categories of other volunteer efforts/opportunities etc.

I also noticed the skill, focus and ingenuity in which this huge effort enlisting a first time volunteer workforce was being directed. An organization that was not even conceived of a week and a half ago was created, organized and structured to fill a need that was not anticipated a week and a half ago, that enlisted the help of thousands of volunteers that processed and entered 98,000 names into a database within a matter of days. This is truly a heroic case of realizing a need and rising to the occasion in order to meet it.

Before being involved with this People finder Project, I did not know what a Wiki was and am beginning to realize its role in making this effort possible.

So that's what lead me make the monetary donation to this effort. I believe in the goals of this project, I believe in its ability to further anticipate how to help people displaced by Hurricane Katrina and its ability to organize and mobilize a volunteer effort to meet it. And I believe in it as a model for creating and mobilizing future volunteer efforts.


Larry Ranly
Thank you, Larry.

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