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adventures in assimilation

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The Haitian Earthquake saw the first significant uptick in responding entities. Gisli Olafsson brought this up the first time we’d met, at Meilanty Coin 33mm Stainless Steel Silver Plated Necklace 80cm ZH0431 7o9TR2tMBY
. I was just starting to visually take notes (having broken my arm), and I was a year into leading a group called Geeks Without Bounds , one of the many technical response groups which had emerged and then stuck around. It was hard to know what we would be good at, where we fit in. Disaster response has such a long and complicated history, and the culture of technology is so used to being new, shiny, and the Fixer of All Things.

Seven years later, and the patterns of digital response are becoming so well ingrained in my soul that I can use the Socratic method to help new groups as they spin up without becoming frustrated, and insist on things like self care. There’s still a lot to learn – especially as our physical and digital environments are changing all the time – but here is what I have figured out about where digital/technical/whatever response fits into the larger response ecosystem: crowdsourcing (and microtasking), increasing everyday capacity, information communication technology, and easing collaboration through standards.

Because each of those is a hefty thing to speak about, this entry covers crowdsourcing and microtasking.

What’s the difference between crowdsourcing and microtasking?

Crowdsourcing is about gathering data, microtasking is about parsing through data . Both are predicated on a very large task being broken down into many tiny pieces, which can can then be done by relatively unskilled/untrained labor. Then all those individual contributions need to be able to re-combine into a logical Whole again without too much overhead. Because of the need for a clear workflow, the problem-solving creativity of in this process exists in the creation of the workflow, the systems on which it runs, and the creation of the experience for the individual participant.

What follows is an example of an emerging crowdsourced practice and one with a smoother flow and two examples about microtasking. A later entry will cover how citizen science exists in the overlap between crowdsourcing and microtasking,

Crowdsourcing

Rescue Requests and Dispatch

The way I’m used to seeing rescue requests happen is through an overloaded emergency response system asking people to stay in their homes and wait it out. It’s never sat well with me, but I’ve been at a loss as to how, as a remote responder, assist. During Harvey, the Coast Guard activated the Digital Humanitarian Network to help go through rescue requests on social media to provide them with summaries every 12 hours which they could then respond to. 12 hours is a long time to wait, even if it’s a quick cycle for the formal sector. Sterling Silver amp; CZ Crystal Heart Pull Through Earrings Made with Swarovski Elements Sa20cU4
. (Let’s return to a rant on redundancy in dispatched resources based on a lack of sharing another time, yes?) Rescue.fm has since started working on ways to coordinate dispatch beyond scribbling on pieces of paper and spreadsheets. Good work, Zello, Cajun Navy, and Rescue.fm! I’m excited to see how this evolves over time, and to see such clear improvements to systems for mutual aid.

Shelter Information

During Harvey response (and then again for Irma), Sketch City set up a workflow for volunteers to call shelters to ask for their capacity, available beds, location, etc. That information was then entered into a data structure which could be queried via SMS through code built by the HarveyAPI team.

Eventually, something like a data standard for health and human services could automate much of this process. But until and unless that happens, this sort of information doesn’t become available to people under stress unless folk are chipping in to make those phone calls and enter the data. Good work, Sketch City!

Microtasking

Mapping Infrastructure

The remote mapping of regions (whether in crisis or not) is something that Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has been doing as a core component of digital response since before their mapping of Port-au-Prince in less time than it would have taken to set up a contract through a response agency. Their Tasker is a beacon of how can get involved in helping a response (or “ Putting the World’s Vulnerable People on the Map “). Those maps are then used by responders and locals to allocate resources, find useful paths across treacherous ground, or focus restoration efforts. This most recent round of hurricane response was no different, and for that we thank you.

Translation

People should be able to ask for, and offer, help in whatever language they are most comfortable in. Areas affected by extreme environmental events will always be home to multilingual populations, whether or not they are visible. The incoming and outgoing information is often so varied as to mean blanket translations won’t work. Thankfully, Meedan stepped in with their Bridge tool and community to create a workflow around translating individual messages, announcements of services, and some documentation of products. Without them, we would have been even more colonial than usual (another rant for another time).

Closing

In short, there are many people in the world who want to help, and many who need help. Often, they’re one and the same. Our role as remote responders and system-builders is to help them find each other and to interact with fewer things in the way. A good first step for many people wanting to help is to have a quick, easy way to contribute – often through crowdsourcing or microtasking. A next step to plug in for more complex and longer-term efforts is ethically desirable as well.

If we work together to build an ecosystem around different ways for people to contribute and request, we strengthen our social fabric and become more resilient.

With thanks to supporters on Arranview Jewellery 5mm Bouton Stud Earring 9ct Gold TI1KdhBz
, who made it WAY less stressful to take the time to write all this down, and to Greg, Jeff, and others who reviewed the post.

One of my early explorations, an interplay between playful, expressive linework and familiar solid shapes, intrigued the team. I took my own experiences as a teenage WordPress.com power user all the way back from high school as an inspiration point: there is something in this expressive linework that is akin to a dot going for a walk, like the on-the-fly aspect of blogging. It feels hand-drawn, imperfect, and approachable — yet finished and polished, like a professional doodle.

The progression of balancing shapes and linework

With feedback from the team, this approach was refined down to look less cartoon-ish and a bit more mature, as a huge part of WordPress's audience is comprised of businesses. The above shows a bit of that progression in balancing line against shape. Shapework is used to groud most of the composition, and linework adds in detail as well as a bit more personality.

We also realized that whenever possible, extra details connoting a personal touch go a long way in humanizing these illustrations. Here, the whimsical flip of a piece of printer paper or small little piece of hair out of place adds a lot of personality to an otherwise serious scene (a person on their computer).

Along these lines, adding in a character interacting with a UI rather than a static computer yields a far more engaging visual. I then documented guidelines around the style on how to best balance this line and shapework, so as to allow illustrations to more firmly hold their own weight against UI.

The goods

I extended this style across spot illustations, badges, and devices using these very principles! One thing I love about this style is that it is extremely versatile; given the context, we could switch from blockier shapes to singing linework, and because of that, can also adapt well against both light and dark backgrounds.

It's been exciting to see these illustrations start to roll out in the product, especially given the reach that WordPress.com has across millions of websites.

support.wordpress.com

apps.wordpress.com

For more about the project itself, check out an interview with myself and collaborator designer Merdia 925 Sterling Silver Created Cats Eye Teardrop Pendant Necklace and Earrings Oqm2Un64
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!

Thanks

This project was a true joy to work on! One of my first experiences learning how to design and develop was with my first WordPress blog, back in high school. Friends can attest that I was a true power user — a Teenage Girl Blogger (that's what I called myself); I wrote every day and WordPress.com is one of my favorite websites. As such it was really neat to be able to come back almost a decade later and contribute in the form of illustrations and branding — full circle, almost.

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