kit blake on Fri, 30 Apr 1999 08:14:37 +0100


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Syndicate: Media strategy - Message Board


A Message Board for Camps, Shelters and Cafes

Dear Syndicalists,
This idea came out of the Media Strategies group at the Budapest 'summit'.
The Message Board is a means for people to find and contact each other
after displacement. Think of it as a database driven Personals system
(Desperately Seeking So-and-so). The core of the system is a web
application, but it is specifically aimed at people who do not have
internet access or knowledge, yet would like to find or contact family
members or friends whose whereabouts are unknown.

The Message Board is a vertical solution to a horizontal communication gap.
The idea is ambitious, not in a technical sense (we have the expertise
within the network to build the application) but in an implementation sense
- it requires the participation of people working in the field. Thus it
could be completely unrealistic. So call this an RFC, a Request For
Comment. Probably this idea overlaps with other initiatives for refugees as
well.

Imagine a bulletin board at a camp or a cafe. Messages are posted on the
board, like:
"Dear Sister, I am alive and well at the Stenkovec camp, in tent 292.
Signed, Brother"
The board is full of messages, in all sorts of languages. People are
reading the board. If they see a message from someone they know, they can
reply by posting their own note. Thus if Sister sees a message from
Brother, she can write a reply. The next time Brother is at the board,
he'll see the message, and can reply to Sister.

As there are currently 29,300+ people in the Stenkovec camp, this helps
people to find each other. However, copies of the bulletin board are
available at the other camps as well. Thus someone in the Neprosteno camp
may see a message from someone they know in Stenkovec, and communicate.

The 'central' Message Board is a web site, and the local paper boards are
printouts from the site's generated pages. People (with Internet access)
can query the database:
"Display all messages from the Radusa camp." A very long page is the
result, too long. "Display all messages from the Radusa camp in the last
week." A long page results, and this page can printed on paper. The paper
can be physically posted in various locations for people to read.

If there is a computer, telephone line, modem, and printer at a camp, this
could happen daily, but it is more likely that the printouts will have to
be delivered by people going there. At this point, the camps have enough
problems supplying basic needs. Delivery requires integration with other
infrastructures of the refugee efforts. If the system is running, there
will be long message lists posted at camps, shelters, mosques, etc. These
message lists will be popular, and I can imagine lines of people reading
the lists.

How does somebody post or respond to a message? This requires internet
access, direct or indirect, and here is where the idea gets ambitious. On
the website is a posting form, with fields for name, location, recipient,
message, and so forth. Posted messages get a unique number, and a reply to
a particular message can be entered. Thus threads can develop, like
newsgroups. A paper version of the form exists as well. If someone without
internet access wants to post or reply, they must fill out the paper form,
and other people must enter the data into the system. This requires
manpower, computers and access. For it to be successful, it requires a lot
of dedicated people, with knowledge of the local languages, and time.

Users with Internet access can directly query the database. This is the
power of the system. Users can search for a specific person, or assemble
queries based on date, family name, and location. If a camp has an internet
connection, I imagine there would be lines of people wishing to
communicate. This could become a sponsorship opportunity for telecoms and
access providers. The website must also be hosted somewhere.

The technical complexity of the database is not high. I'm not a programmer,
but I have enough experience to guess that a proof of concept application
could be created in a few days, and a robust version would require a week
or two of programming time. There are definitely people within the network
with the skills to program this. Scaleability is an issue, as if it really
works, the data could grow immensely over time.

If this idea bears fruit, I would be happy to participate in the
specification and execution. But first we must have a reality check. I'm
particularly interested in critique from people close to the field
Best,
kit


P.S. This just came in:
>From: "Ivo Skoric" <ivo@reporters.net>
>Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 12:37:45 +0000
>Subject: (Fwd) Re: Refugee finder
>
>there is also a web site
>containing records of refugees registered in Macedonia, so far they
>have about 65,000 people registered.
>
>Its address is http://www.refugjat.org/.

Pretty impressive. The Kosovar Refugee Database from ADI (Association for
Democratic Initiatives in Macedonia) is being compiled by volunteers, and
completely fulfills the 'finding' function.


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