Web 2.0 shines in SoCal wildfires

The SoCal wildfires are showcasing emerging Web 2.0 technologies — the first “Web 2.0 disaster” as Paul Kedrosky puts it.

Google Maps, courtesy of KPBS, has a mashup of fires, evacuations, response sites and so on. I like the idea of mashups but sure wish the map interface were snappier and a bit more sophisticated graphically.

KPBS, the San Diego NPR affiliate (someone knows what they’re doing there), also has a continuous Twitter feed (ticker). A great application for software in search of one.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a Blogspot (Google) blog instead of an in-house blog. I’m not as surprised as Kedrosky by this. In-house newspaper blogs for the most part aren’t even an echo chamber because there’s so little sound to begin with, leaving aside the issue of clumsy UIs. The U-T blog shows how a newspaper’s resources can really shine online when put to good use. Few services could assemble this kind of clearing house on such short notice.

Jim Forbes, a retired tech editor, is ‘fire-blogging’ the disaster from an evacuation shelter in Escondido with a Lenovo X60 tablet and integrated cell modem. A guy who can actually write, reporting in real time. What a treat.

Web 2.0 generally refers to the burbling “social networking” and digital-collaboration technologies all the rage now. It’s fine to call the wildfires a made-to-order Web 2.0 catastrophe, but networking technology proved its utility under societal duress long ago with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco when The Well kept onliners in touch and informed.

What’s particularly intriguing, as Forbes notes, is how much more effective the Web is than cell phones, especially voice usage. The forced brevity and directness of IM, its multithreading capability and durability of communication all really come in handy during emergencies, and 802.x Wi-Fi apparently is carrying the day better than cell nets. If only the kids didn’t have to IM while they drive (thereby creating emergencies).