How social networking saved New Orleans

Powered by community, New Orleans residents exposed city hall and the power of social software

If there is any doubt to the power of social media, social networking and social software, then nonbelievers may need to Think New Orleans.

In a powerful presentation on the marriage of software tools and crowds of people in desperate need of organization around a cause, Alan Gutierrez of the nonprofit group Think New Orleans detailed an inspiring post-Hurricane Katrina story of how a crash course in social networking helped people emerge from the rubble; find their voice; fight the government; solicit help; and save their neighborhoods, schools and each other.

At the annual Burton Group conference, Gutierrez, a self-described underemployed programmer looking to lend his considerable talent to nonprofit causes, told a story he entitled "Innovating Your Way Out of Total System Failure" to highlight how citizens in a handful of the hardest-hit neighborhoods used ingenuity, creativity, digital cameras, Flickr, WordPress, Google Maps and Yahoo Groups to bend rebuilding efforts to the will of the people and away from the wrecking balls swung by city government.

"We had to find a way to divide and conquer," says Gutierrez. "Citizens became our knowledge workers. We were able to collect experts and to use their viewpoint as a home owner to help do the job that the government was supposed to do. People reached out to these tools because they were compelled to."

Using blogs with names like Fix the Pumps and Squandered Heritage, citizens took up "beats," lending their professional expertise, ingenuity and gumshoe efforts to create a citizens' voice to counter city government rhetoric.

Gutierrez's beat was an effort called Internet Workshops, where classes with titles such as Web Publishing 101 showed citizens how they could blog, upload files, work with photos and images, create mashups, and most importantly tap the power of organization using the Internet as a hub.

Of note was Matt McBride, a civil engineer who began blogging about and photographing US Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to repair drainage pumps and install new floodgate pumps in New Orleans. His Fix the Pumps blogs became a watchdog uncovering shoddy work and other issues.

There was also Karen Gadbois, who collected addresses and used Google Maps on her Squandered Heritage beat to plot undamaged houses that had been slated for demolition to show how they mysteriously were in a neat row along a single street. The city had deemed the houses, some that had been repaired by owners then stealthily torn down by the city, as "eminent health risks." Gadbois detailed how FEMA had given the city money to demolish thousands of homes and used the maps to raise questions about city motives. The result was a federal class action lawsuit.

"All this allowed us to do something," says Gutierrez. "Like the notion of next action, for us it was the next question. Now that we had the questions, any one of us could go to the city meetings and ask about this."

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Fontana

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?