This is a post I wrote only a couple of days after Katrina first hit the Gulf Coast (Sept 1, from what my timestamp now says, apparently), but I didn’t put it up because it seemed a little early to be opining about quasi-political technical philosophy in the midst of an emergency.
Now that I’m seeing others post about it (example here) I suddenly recalled my unpublished post … so here it is…
Stewart Brand and others have promoted the idea of open architectures, simple open systems, for meeting human needs more readily, efficiently and sustainably (and more humanely and intimately for that matter).
The Katrina situation shows how simple web structures that allow great emergence and complexity with social interaction can be useful in a pinch.
For example, the Katrina Help Wiki: Main Page – KatrinaHelp
Craigs List is a beautiful example: it’s so open and easy to use, and so simplified, that it becomes the path of least resistance. People can check it easily on slow connections or even their phones (I think). Precisely why more commercial and glitzy complex sites aren’t being used for the purpose.
Is CraigsList making money from it? Not directly. They make their money from paid job postings. But when New Orleans rebuilds and people need to hire workers, I wonder what site will occur to them first?
[Edited to add: Craig wrote in the comments that they “have no plans at all to charge in New Orleans… and have provided free job postings related to Katrina, and have actually lost money on that.” My point above was only that organizations that don’t take advantage of adversity, but show generosity, come out better in the end with more loyal and trusting constituents.]