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Brave new wired world: Earthquake, tsunami in Japan trigger social networking avalanche

Social networks open their cyber-doors to help rescue people in distress and disseminate information in these critical times when most other means of communication have broken down

It was a Friday that Japan will always dread. On 11 March 2011, nature unleashed a furious attack on the busy islanders, a 9.0 magnitude quake that sent tremors through the islands, just after lunch time. The quake set off a devastating tsunami that washed over north-east Japan, leaving everything in shambles in a few minutes.

Even as the resilience of the Japanese people shone through in their concern and care for each other in this moment of despair, another defining event took shape through the airwaves and the optic cables that run over the seabed. The immediacy and intensity with which social networks responded to the situation enabled the world to learn about the disaster and the people in the eye of the storm, at a pace that was unfathomable just a decade or so ago.

Seconds after the disaster struck the islands, thousands of netizens took to the social networks and online forums to share information, communicate with friends and family, reach out to people and express solidarity with those affected by the situation.

Twitter has over 10 million active users in Japan, which put the micro-blogging website at the forefront of the flood of information vetting the appetite of the worried millions. In fact, Twitter posted a guide in Japanese and English to assist people under duress with tips and resources to help them survive through the situation. It also offered a list of the most widely used hashtags to tweet about the disaster, helping users search for tweets from friends and family. According to Poynter, the hashtags #tsunami and #prayforjapan were trending thousands of tweets per second in the immediate aftermath.

Facebook too had its share of conversation, but then it does not enjoy the scale of success in Japan which it does elsewhere in the world. While a lot of international conversation was being written on the walls of Facebook, the Japanese themselves were flocking to Mixi, the leading social networking site in Japan. Mixi has over 20 million users in Japan and it was the first place where the devastated people rushed to, looking for messages from people living around the epicentre of the earthquake and in the path of the gigantic tsunami waves.

In the absence of telephone lines, Skype became the preferred tool for voice and visual communication between people inside Japan and to communicate with families living overseas. Japan has been at the forefront of technological evolution, and in this instance, the smart phones, tablets and netbooks enabled citizens to harness the technology at their disposal, to connect with people, or in many cases to search for them through the wires.

Google, the world's most recognisable entity on the Internet, probably had the most significant response among the various online communities working to alleviate and share the pain of the Japanese. Google introduced a 'person finder app' to help trace and connect people apart from a slew of other measures to aid the Japanese. At last count, the site was tracking about 326,300 records.

Google took it a step further by launching a crisis response page, consolidating all the tools and resources related to the crisis on one page. The effort to digitise the list of people inside shelters by offering to receive details to an email address set up specifically for this purpose also drew enthusiastic response. Google collected these details manually into the person finder app, helping to grow the database and connect an ever-increasing number of people.

Within hours of the quake, Google managed to broadcast home-made videos on the 'Citizen Tube'  channel of YouTube. Google.org has been at the forefront of crisis response during the disasters in Haiti, Chile and recently in New Zealand as well. Google's crisis response team is a dedicated bunch of engineers constantly working to improve the means available to respond to a crisis and disseminate information in the most sensitive manner.

No matter the form of the response, it is becoming clear that a wired universe is weaving itself into the fabric of our evolution. If the means with which we communicate with each other in the moments that truly define our existence are any indication, social networking is undoubtedly the primary tool of
long-distance communication for the current generation.

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COMMENTS

pravin

6 years ago

the lesson i learnt from this article is that babus and govts cannot do disaster management than private social networks.we dont need elaborate govt set ups and looting of the taxpayer to set up NIAs and othe UIDAI and other bureaucratic booboos.all we need is freedom for the people to express their economic and social creativitiy -unshackled by idiotic regulators.

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