Bushfires whip up online storm

Thousands show support as bloggers get behind bushfire victims

Thousands of people from around the world have taken to Twitter to post messages of support for Victorians affected by the worst bushfires in the country's history.

The forums have seen messages of despair from displaced Australians answered with outpourings of condolences, while through a Country Fire Authority (CFA) RSS feed one Twitterer is providing real time news updates on the emergency.

At one stage the bushfires became the micro-blogging site's second most popular thread after the feeds garnered thousands of comments in less than twelve hours.

Telstra and Microsoft Australia have supported the forums with the telco offering assistance packages to those affected by the fires, while charities including the Red Cross and the blood service have encouraged users to donate to supporting causes.

One poster claimed to have lost their house while their neighbour lost their two children.

A separate Web site has been whipped up by Bendigo-based Web consultant Ric Raftis to supplement Twitter feeds and list charities that support bush fire victims.

“Whilst bushfires are not unknown to us here, never before have we seen them on such a scale. The destruction of life and property is unprecedented,” Raftis said on the Web site.

“I have friends in one area, a niece in another who has had to evacuate her home, an uncle and two cousins in another area, a good mate in another area and it just seems to go on as each new report comes through.”

ABC news is also supplying news updates on its own Twitter channel.

Creator of one of the first Twitter channels dedicated to the bush fires, Peter Wallhead, told Computerworld he felt inspired to help victims of the fires.

“Even though I'm based in Hobart I still feel that I should be doing something to help the victims and their families of these horrific fires,” Wallhead said.

As the #bushfires thread became inundated with messages, Wallhead an others created a separate feed -- #firecomments -- for users to post messages of commiseration.

“I believe that the Twitter feeds which have developed over the last few days are self monitoring because each user has their own unique way of expressing their updates about the fires,” he said.

Google engineers have pinpointed the Victorian fires on its mapping application, and is providing continuous news updates from the CFA on remaining fires.

A Google spokesman said the maps have received “many thousands” of Australian and overseas visitors.

As of 12.30 today the official death toll was 107 with about 750 homes destroyed.

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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