What do you get when you have a massive storm approaching, a bunch of MIT Media Lab hackers with the next day off stuck in their rooms waiting for the power to go out? You get #hurricanehackers of course.
We learned a lot about this during the Safecast launch after the 3/11 earthquake in Japan, and are seeing it now with #hurricanehackers.
One of the most important principles of what we do at the Media Lab is "practice over theory" or "just build it". It's a very effective principle in rapid response to natural disasters and other things where the ability to "pull" from the network and collaborate quickly and effectively are essential. One of the key elements is to make sure that you use all of the effective tools for collaboration and communication so that you don't duplicate efforts and you quickly aggregate and pull people together. Most of the obvious ideas get started by everyone and trying to find unique ideas while pulling together parallel projects is key.
One thing we quickly learned is that tools like Google docs and etherpad with their limit on the total number of participants were inadequate for the scale of collaboration we need. We ended up on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the pre-Web text chat protocol that survives today as one of the primary modes of communication among hackers.
We'll be hosting one of the number of CrisisCamps this weekend at the Media Lab. Please tune in or participate if you have time.