The Travel Startup Blog

Friday, October 26, 2007

A week with Travature, Fires, and thrown together mashups

Well it certainly has been a crazy week. We were planning on coming in this week to announce a new thing we've been working on. Of course the San Diego wildfire happened instead, and thus all work related stuff got (pardon the pun) put on the back burner.

Instead, all of us spent Monday, at home on lockdown, trying to stay off the roads for emergency personnel, while at the same time monitoring the status of our homes, our friends homes, etc.

Tuesday though is when things got interesting in Travature land, because 1) I was feeling a bit cooped up, unable to go the office. 2) I was checking a million sites to see if I need to evacuate from my own home. 3) I wanted to help out in the crisis. Which, all factors combined pushed me to build the Travature San Diego Fire Mashup.

The truth was in my eyes initially the mashup was hobbled together, and relied on other data, so it wasn't all that impressive. But because the info was coming in so fast from the great sources of KPBS, LATimes, Signonsandiego, NateTwitter, Flickr, and Youtube, the advantage of having it all in one place became amazingly effective. Late that night we posted on some blogs about the creation, and by the next day we were seeing traffic 10 times our normal levels.
People were commenting that it was "the best way to find out what was going on out there". Which obviously made us really happy to help in some small way.

Of course, the worry immediately became, can we handle the load if the traffic continues to explode? Considering I was still stuck on lockdown at my house, if the servers crashed we would have been royally screwed. More than a business being down, the criticality of a service interruptions when people are relying on you for disaster updates, is a whole different level. I can only imagine, the collective gutrench that those in the local news industry must have felt when many of their websites went down, during the initial firestorm on sunday night.

Luckily, we scaled away, and we were able to handle the influx without any hiccups. Even now, 5.5 days later, we are still receiving strong traffic from people checking the fire mashup - but its certainly on the decline. This is obviously a good thing as it means things are winding down. In fact, for the Travature team, today has been the first day any of us have been able to return the office (we even got a smigeon of actual travel work done).

That being said all is not clear. Mainstream media is reporting less and less, but fires continue to burn with ever present danger. Overall though, the shift in mood has become an air of cautious optimism that the worst is now over.

On the tech front though, one of the things that has begun to surface, is how effective new media has been in providing information during this major disaster. Both, as someone who was trying to consume the information and also as someone who was trying to help disseminate it, I can attest to the fact that the often hyped web 2.0 has shown its strengths. From Twittering, to Blogging, to Mapping, - new tools put in the hands of both traditional media and the average joe, has proven effective.

Of course it also brings about new questions, of how do you standardize the information aggregation, so the people, know where to go, and can get access to everything deemed "relevant". This is obviously the hard part, but clearly the future is streamlined, standardized mashups. I know people like Nate Ritter, and others are beginning to think about how to do this on a more general level. And I think its a great challenge to take on, how to determine whats good info, bad info, and relevant info in the time of crisis, while accepting standardized and unstandardized data from traditional media and joe shchmo in the thick of things. No easy problem, but certainly the foundation for something great if it can be solved well. As for us, our concern was clearly trying to help in the middle of our crisis. And I think, in our geeky way, we did, and for that I'm proud.

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