Mashable Outtake: CrisisCamp’s Andy Carvin (@acarvin)

My column last week on Mashable tied together overarching themes from mega charity events like Twestival, 12for12k, Tweetsgiving and CrisisCamps. To get the information, I interviewed the four organizers cited in the article. Each interview was fantastic and informative in its own right. So with my editor’s blessing I am publishing the unedited interview source material over the next couple of weeks for general consumption.

The following is Andy Carvin‘s CrisisCamp interview. And is senior strategist at NPR and runs their social media desk. He has been involved in online disaster response projects going back to 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami, and has been part of the team helping pull together the CrisisCamps.

GL: What makes CrisisCamp unique as compared to other large-scale social media events?

Andy Carvin: There’s a long history of people mobilizing online to help during times of crisis, and they’ve often been very successful. During the 2004 tsunami, the TsunamiHelp blog helped aggregate citizen journalism and other important resources faster than many mainstream media sources. During Katrina, volunteers created the PeopleFinder project, developing an interchange format for structuring missing persons data from all over the Internet. And during the 2008 hurricane season we managed to create maps of evacuation routes, a wiki organizing local/state/national emergency resources and other activities.

But things were different with Haiti, and that’s because Heather Blanchard, Noel Dickard and Andrew Turner organized a Barcamp last summer called CrisisCamp. The camp brought together online volunteers with government and NGO representatives involved in disaster response. So when the Haiti earthquake happened, rather than just mobilizing and coordinating the volunteers solely online, we organized an impromptu CrisisCamp in DC at the Sunlight Foundation.

Within days of announcing it, five other CrisisCamps were spawned in other cities. The following week, it was double that. In total there have been more than 40 CrisisCamps held in half a dozen countries around the world, with well over 1500 people participating in them in person. So by combining social media tools as mobilizing and collaboration platforms with real-world hackathons, we’ve been able to create a virtuous cycle in which a number of amazing projects have been built.

Among the things that’ve been created:

  • Tradui, the first Creole-English mobile phone app, for Android and iPhone;

  • Open Street Map Haiti, a crowdsourced map of post-earthquake Haiti, available to first responders on a variety of GPS devices;

  • Google PersonFinder, a widget and API based on the Katrina PeopleFinder project, allowing any website to interface with a database for searching and reporting missing persons.

  • A semantic wiki that organizes disaster response and emergency preparedness resources from around the world

  • All the projects can be found here:

GL: How did CrisisCamp attract the long tail (large amounts of people) so successfully?

Andy Carvin: There’s no doubt that social media played a big role in attracting so many volunteers to participate. By getting the word out via Twitter, Facebook and countless email lists, people came out of the woodwork to participate. It’s also worth noting that a number of us have been involved in these types of projects for a long time, so we’ve got a lot of people following us through our social networks. That makes it easier to rally the troops, since you’ve got a built in audience of people interested in disaster response.

GL: In spite of its size, people seem to feel a relationship with you and local CrisisCamp organizers. How did you achieve that?

Andy Carvin: It’s certainly helped that a number of us have worked together on these disaster response projects over several years. When something catastrophic happens somewhere, we know to turn to each other and get things going. But I think the physicial CrisisCamps have helped close the loop. We had more than enough people to start building projects solely through online collaboration, as we’ve done in the past. But we also got people together in a room for eight hours at a time, amping them up on caffeine and sugar, often several weekends in a row. And that’s been an amazing bonding experience for a lot of us.

GL: What can a cause learn from your effort?

Andy Carvin: Remember that social media can be a mobilizing tool for offline, as well as online activities. If you’re doing something that can be grounded in your community, and work needs to be done fast, try to get people together in person if it’s appropriate. Not everything has to be done online, even though social media can help connect the dots. And try to give people specific tasks if you can.

The CrisisCamps have been different from traditional Barcamps in the sense that we don’t get together for hours and brainstorm stuff. We show up with the essential tasks already outlined, and we then get to work. For each project we’d identify a project manager, and we’d meet up during the day at regular intervals, like we were doing Agile product development on speed. Each city would have a coordinator as well, and sometimes an overall project manager who could keep everything flowing. So it wasn’t as flat as a typical Barcamp – we needed a certain amount of hierarchy to get the work done.

GL: What’s your favorite social media tool that you used for CrisisCamp ?

Andy Carvin: There’s no one single tool; it was really a combination of tools that made it all happen. For example, good old fashioned email lists and IRC were major connectors for us, in terms of long-term contact and real-time coordination respectively. Twitter and Facebook played huge roles in mobilizing volunteers.

A number of projects found Etherpad to be a great way to coordinate real-time text editing. Some groups tried Google Wave, but the learning curve sometimes interfered with progress. And wikis and blogs have helped us document our activities over time. Then there were the tools that helped volunteers build projects. For mapping, for example, OpenStreetMap and Ushahidi were absolutely essential, and literally lifesavers, as they were used by relief workers to coordinate their efforts on the ground.

Hope this is what you were looking for. I’d definitely suggest you talk to at least one of the three founders of CrisisCamp – @poplifegirl, @ajturner, and @noeldickover. While I’ve been actively involved rallying the troops, running the CrisisWiki project and hosting two camps, this is still their brainchild.

Mashable Outtake: 12for12K’s Susan Murphy


My column last week on Mashable tied together overarching themes from mega charity events like Twestival, 12for12k, Tweetsgiving and CrisisCamps. To get the information, I interviewed the four organizers cited in the article. Each interview was fantastic and informative in its own right. So with my editor’s blessing I am publishing the unedited interview source material over the next couple of weeks for general consumption, starting with Susan Murphy‘s 12for12K interview.

GL: What makes 12for12K unique as compared to other large-scale social media events?

Susan:I think what sets 12for12k apart is that we started small. It wasn’t about getting the large numbers for us right away. In other words, we weren’t trying to raise a million dollars in a month. Our goal was pretty reasonable. Find 1200 people to donate $10 per month for 12 months.

Since we were already pretty heavily involved in social media, reaching 1200 passionate people didn’t seem too daunting a task for us. We knew we had the capacity within the core team to reach people, and we focused on inspiring people to not only donate, but to help us spread the word. Our idea was to focus on building a community first, and the money would follow.

GL: How does 12for12K attract the long tail (large amounts of people) so successfully?

Susan:We focused first on building a community that cared about the cause. These people became our ambassadors – they were as passionate as we were about helping, and they spread the word. We got the charities directly involved too, and made sure their stories were out there for people to hear. Once we had a passionate community, spreading the word was much easier. When we needed to get a message out, or inspire people to contribute, our community went into action.

GL: In spite of its size, people seem to feel a relationship with you and local 12for12K organizers. How did you achieve that?

Susan: It’s not enough to just find a bunch of people willing to spread the word – that kind of publicity has a shelf life. We needed people to commit to 12for12k long term. We achieved this by empowering our community, not just “using” them for their blog posts and retweets. We wanted our community to feel ownership in 12for12k.

So we encouraged their ideas and feedback, and eventually 12for12k took on a life of its own….people were organizing their own fundraisers, and offering to help with web site design, logos and graphics, content, video production, social media outreach and other tasks. It is a true community effort, and our supporters have been absolutely critical to the success of 12for12k. It was this strong community that raised over $100,000 last year. We are so grateful to everyone that has supported the cause.

GL: What can a cause learn from your effort?

This has been a learning experience for us from the beginning. One of our biggest lessons happened mid-last year when we started to lose momentum. This is a natural thing with any long term initiative, and it’s something that causes need to be aware of.

It took some time to pinpoint the exact issue, but we realized that we’d lost some of the connection with our supporters – we weren’t reaching out to them as often, and weren’t listening as intently. We refocused our efforts on being there for our supporters, and regained our momentum by making sure we were involving our community at every step.

GL: What’s your favorite social media tool that you used for 12for12K?

Susan: Well, my mantra is, it’s not about the tools… but if you insist. ;) It’s important to leverage the platforms where your community resides – in our case it was important to have our home base as the web site, where we could share news and promote the charities and events, as well as promoting our strong community and highlighting their tremendous efforts.

Involving our community in conversations on our Twitter and Facebook pages was also extremely important. I would say that our leveraging of Twitter has been extremely successful. Last year we worked with Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) and held a Tweet-a-thon for our March charity, Share our Strength, and brought in over $12,000 in 12 hours, which was remarkable.

We’ve had other amazing 12for12k’ers that have also done their own online fundraising events, like concerts and live webcasts, with great success. But I think a balanced social media strategy is the best approach. Find your community. Listen to them. Encourage and empower them to share the message. The tools come second.

Introducing the Greenversation iPhone App


As part of my participation in the AppMakr launch, I was given the opportunity to create my own iPhone application! The resulting application is the Greenversation app, which gathers the latest posts from my favorite environmental information resources. You can download the Greenversation app from the iTunes store now.

I originally compiled the list for a Live Earth/Blog Action day post last fall. The ten resources listed in the post are:

1) My primary volunteer organization, Live Earth‘s site.

2) EcoFriend, a very cool green tech blog.

3)350, bringing awareness to the #350, which represents the number of parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

4) Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog.

5) Triple Pundit gives eco-intel and encourages social entreneurship.

6) NPR’s Environment Podcast.

7) Mashable’s list of green tweeple.

8) Environmental Defense Fund.

9) Grist offers more, from sustainable food to politics.

10) Didn’t get enough geekery with EcoFriend? Check out the green technologies featured on ecogeek.

As I mentioned in my original AppMakr post, by no means does this replace a full-on application developed with a specific organizational purpose. But it is an extremely cost effective way to make sure your brand’s content is easily accessible to iPhone users without redeveloping everything for the platform.

For those of you that are wondering, Greenversation is not the name of our new company. Yes, it’s more than me; there are three of us. However, you will see some additional, personal environmental activism under the Greenversation moniker. Next up is a Greenversation project I am launching with List of Change Co-founder Shannon Whitley.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.

The El Show Episode 13 – Do Twitter Lists Matter?

Warning: There’s significant profanity in this podcast.


On episode 13, we discussed Twitter and its new Lists feature. Because there’s a lot of conjecture about the new Twitter Lists feature, Richard and I put on our professional hats and broke it down. Then we asked, why are we so obsessed with Twitter. We also had Google chatter. Here’s a breakdown:

Download or listen to the El Show Episode 13 today!

Video from Mashable Social Good Conference

One of my most recent cause-oriented speeches was at last month’s Mashable Social Good Conference. The Summer of Good campaign, which raised a total of more than $55,000 equally benefiting LiveSTRONG, The Humane Society, WWF, and Oxfam America, came to a close at the Social Good Conference on August 28th, 2009.

In addition to the above video, below find my PPT for the event dubbed, “Movements Begin Within.”