Technical “Gifts” Silicon Valley Could Donate to Japan

Like everyone else, I’m utterly saddened, scared, and captivated about the triple-whammy Japan is going through. Like everyone else, I have donated money, I’m willing to donate more, and if I could go there and help, I would. I had an idea last night that I could help organize something, but friends were quick to point out that money right now may not be the problem. Specifically, they shared this NYT article from today, claiming that donations are pouring in faster than authorities and NGOs know what to do with them. I am confused. I know it’s easy to donate money via SMS, but maybe non-monetary donations are harder?

I was invited to the Kezai Society meeting tonight on this topic in Mountain View. I spoke up and raised this issue, and it ignited many new ideas, which I’ll share below. The basic message was as follows:

  1. Right now, the “short-term” needs are measured in about now to 3 months, say mid-June 2011.
  2. Therefore, what short-term technical needs do Japanese victims have?
  3. And, how can technologists and hackers help design things, or use existing systems, to help those in dire need?

Here are the ideas generated in just a few minutes:

  • Peer-to-Peer room & board for those who are homeless & lost their families. Someone cited an example of grandparents who lost their homes and entire families. Rather than waiting for a shelter, maybe they could live with others who have room? Imagine the psychological benefits of that, relatively speaking. I mentioned Airbnb, which no one had heard of, but they liked the concept.
  • SMS/location “heat maps” to track where people, shipments, supplies are. Anything to leverage the phone and location to get better information to people, as the government is very slow in this regard.
  • Message Boards organized around problems and responders. This could be like a lightweight Craigslist using SMS and location to enter problems and then match those problems with those nearby who could “respond.”

I’m sure there are 100s others. Maybe instead of donations, some big Silicon Valley firms and corporations could sponsor a hackathon award or something similar to get these tools built?

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About Semil Shah

Official contributor to @TechCrunch (since Jan 2011); from July 1, will begin EIR with @JavelinVP

18 responses to “Technical “Gifts” Silicon Valley Could Donate to Japan”

  1. Sarah Warden says :

    I think those are great ideas….

  2. Nithin Jawali says :

    Excellent ideas, but as you say, tech can contribute in a myriad different ways.

  3. amishshah says :
  4. sefr says :

    Nice idea, only question is how to get the application in the hands of this who need it? There already are applications that could be of great help, like Bambuser for sharing live video of ones situation, etc. There are likely more.Would love to help, just don’t know how to go from done app to used app?

  5. Semil Shah says :

    I think the key b/c of timing is how one can modify an existing app/platform to meet an immediate need of the people there?Sent from my iPhone

  6. sefr says :

    Ok here’s one idea. What do you think? Problem: For those in need, it is difficult to communicate position and type of need in an efficient manner. For those trying to help, it is difficult to communicate what they can do and where they are.Solution: Empower both parties with a better way of communicating status to each other, also making sure that this status is kept updated.Essentially, it’s a check-in service with a history. Based on Foursquare’s API, the system lets those in need say where they are, and what they need. And, stores that have just received food, or NGO’s with resources to help, can say what they can help with (“we now have food”/”we’ve set up a temporary hospital”). NGO’s and others wanting to help can also find nearby persons in need, and indicate that “I’m on my way to your position with first aid kit, but I don’t have any food to give you” etc. Others can then see this on the person in need’s profile, minimizing redundant rescue attempts.The client side would be web based, so it could run on any web aware platform. It can utilize GPS on iPhone/Android and also let you position yourself manually on a map for desktop users.There’s a range of additional features that seem nice, like stating level of urgency, connecting to SMS services somehow. I’m not sure about the best priority, or if this is even something that would be useful. Comments appreciated!

  7. Semil Shah says :

    Wow sounds great!Sent from my iPhone

  8. Harsh Bal says :

    The need of the hour appears to be safety, food, water, shelter and dignity. About 2 Mn people live within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant. We need nothing short of Noah’s Ark to evacuate them. 77,000 residents within 12 miles who are the most vulnerable. A cruise ship/ocean liner ought to do it till the radiation levels are controlled and some minimal inhabitable infrastructure is put in place. Some of the world’s largest ships have a usable area of ~ 1 million sq. ft, 10’s of acres of carpet area, 10’s of 1000’s of seating capacity, 1000s of bathrooms, and generate millions of litres of fresh water per day…

  9. Semil Shah says :

    Harsh, great idea bout using cruise ships for shelter and mobility — I will tweet this out. And, then they need to be relocated to hopefully some others’ homes in Japan where there is space.

  10. Harsh Bal says :

    Thanks, Semil. I have also tweeted it on my page – https://twitter.com/#!/stemcellcapital/. Once everyone is on board the ship(s), it will be much easier to locate loved ones through an electronic registration process at the gate. Additionally, once people are cleared off ground zero and the human panic factor is reduced, rescue and rebuilding efforts can progress much more efficiently. We should contact some cruise cos to encourage them to offer to load people off the Japanese coast and dock at a safe distance in the Pacific …

  11. Semil Shah says :

    I have just tweeted to Princess, NCL, and Carnival Cruises. Not sure if they’ll respond to me. NCL did have a tweet linking to their press release that they are suspending trips to Japan for now, on request by U.S. government.

  12. Harsh Bal says :

    Terrific. I just wrote to Mr. Adam Goldstein, President and CEO Royal Caribbean International who owns the largest ship – Oasis of The Seas. The excerpt is below – Dear Adam,… We are all deeply saddened by the human toll due to the earthquake and nuclear fallout in Japan. The need of the hour is to provide people safety, food, water, shelter and dignity. About 2 Mn people live within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant. 77,000 residents within 12 miles who are the most vulnerable. A cruise ship/ocean liner can be used as a temporary residence till the radiation levels are controlled and some minimal inhabitable infrastructure is put in place. You have one of the largest cruise ships that can provide a safe haven with its million sq. ft area and prevent the crisis from growing deeper. Once everyone is on board the ship(s), it will be much easier to locate loved ones. Additionally, once people are cleared off ground zero and the human panic factor is reduced, rescue and rebuilding efforts can progress much more efficiently. Thank you.Harsh Bal

  13. Harsh Bal says :

    We should also post it to news channels. I tweeted to AC360. Once the top news anchors take this on, we may be able to get the necessary people to take action. Fingers crossed.

  14. Angelica says :

    Sorry to say, but Japan DOES need money. The area hit is filled majoritarily with retirees — many of the younger ones capable of rebuilding have left for bigger cities like Tokyo. As a result, this devastated area is poorer, with less industries, rural, and their large elderly population is now without homes. The Red Cross has now set up a system to receive the donations to Japan. I’m sure they will be put to good use. http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/responding/ongoing-oper

  15. Semil Shah says :

    Angelica, I know Japan needs money, but the question seems to be diff: Assume they’ll get the money, could tech solutions help sooner, in the immediate term?Sent from my iPhone

  16. Harsh Bal says :

    Japan continues to be rattled by aftershocks. It was recently hit by a 6.1-magnitude aftershock, with an epicentre 150 km NE of Tokyo and just south of the nuclear plants leaking radiation. Spinach, milk and tap water are showing traces of radioactive iodine 100s of kms away. Evacuation seems to be necessary to avoid the whole cascade of events. The standard principles of radiation protection: time-distance-shielding apply. The logistics are daunting but thats where we need to be creative and a holistic approach is required…

  17. Angelica says :

    Sorry about that Sunil — indeed, I was reacting more to the NYT article than what you wrote above! As for your note about modifying existing platforms, I totally agree. QR codes (used to distribute coupons in Japan) or infrared (available on almost all JP cellphones) could also be used in some way… Feel free to post ideas on https://www.google.com/moderator/#16 ideas. The ideas will be worked on during a HackForJapan hackathon tomorrow, with support from Google, Yahoo, Rakuten and other big names to gain traction in Japan.

  18. Nambirajan Vanamamalai says :

    If the tech world Responds to this passionate plea, it would lead Japan on the fast road to normalcy.

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