Tech tools tell the story of earthquake in Haiti

With phone service out, many people turn to Twitter and Skype to communicate.

The worst earthquake to hit the Caribbean in 200 years struck Haiti on Tuesday. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the Haitian Capital of Port-au-Prince, where it devastated the tiny nation, causing an unknown number of deaths and widespread destruction. But despite being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti's Internet connected devices were key tools in telling the rest of the world about the emerging crisis.

Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook

Twitter was a key tool for distributing images and information from Haiti -- just as it has been in a number of other crises across the globe. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that images sent via Twitpic and other Twitter-based photo services were hitting the Internet long before news agencies produced anything similar. And as Haitian officials were giving their reports on what happened, eyewitness accounts from Haitians in messages of 140 characters or less were already widespread.

Haitian radio and television host Carel Pedre was one of the most prominent figures using Twitter to communicate with the outside world. "DIGICEL IS WORKING! CALL UR FAMILY NOW!!" Pedre posted in one tweet early Wednesday morning. Another Twitter user, Miami-based Marvin Ady, posted photos on Twitpic he said he'd been receiving from Haiti. Richard Morse used Twitter to convey a sense of how the people were reacting to the devastation: "I'm hearing singing and praying from the carrefour feuilles area. My prayers go out to the folks there."

A Wordpress-powered blog called Haitifeed is also delivering a steady stream of first-hand accounts as well as mainstream media reports from across the globe.

Reports from citizen journalists are also coming in to CNN's iReport desk where they are vetted by CNN's editorial staff.

On Facebook, a group called Earthquake Haiti already has over 14,000 members. The group is largely being used for people to show support and trade news reports; however, there are some users who seem to be posting critical information including pleas for assistance to injured Haitians.

Skype

With telephone service toppled due to the earthquake, those on the ground turned to Skype to speak with the media, aid organizations, or to communicate with loved ones overseas. A Connecticut-based missionary organization that works in Haiti used Skype to communicate with their people there to get a sense of the devastation. Pedre also used Skype to give CBS News and many other media organizations a first-hand report about Haiti's crisis.

Pedre Speaks with CBS News:

What's not clear, however, is whether Haitians are using these technologies to communicate and help each other. From what I've seen so far, the use of tools like Twitter and Facebook are more helpful for delivering news about Haiti to the outside world instead of aiding those directly affected by the crisis--a recurring theme that we've already seen play out in places like Iran and India.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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