Thursday, April 29, 2010

Social Experiment. Can strangers help people by providing information during disaster?

Paul and his family is traveling to Europe. Can you help them by providing helpful tips?

Please "Like" the facebook page of European Traveler. You will see regular updates during Paul's trip. You may watch their journey, and can optionally choose to help Paul, by giving helpful hints during their journey.

They are traveling from April 30'th to May 10'th. This is a map of the Wish list. It would of-course not be possible to cover all of this in 11 days, and this is where you can help.

View Switzerland Trip in a larger map

Social Experiment
We are trying to determine if total strangers can provide information to help people who are affected by disaster. The best experiment is to try this out in a real life situation. It so happened that Paul had planned his vacation to Europe, and this is a perfect opportunity to experiment. You can do the following to support this experiment.
  • Spread the news about this experiment, by sharing this in facebook, write a blog or
  • Become a fan of the "European Traveler", by clicking on Like.
  • "Like" the posts and add comments to the posts.
During his trip Paul will have a very basic phone with SMS. He will post his updates via a text message, and the system will attempt to determine his position and make a post at facebook.

This is how it works.
SMS from Paul's phone ->System attempts to determine position -> Question gets published in facebook, along with Paul's position -> Question visible to hundreds of people who are willing to help -> They answer via facebook -> Paul gets an SMS for every answer.

This is an extension of Stranded in Europe, which was launched during the recent volcano ash crisis. The notable addition is the location information. The blog post on Stranded in Europe can be found here.

Is this a real trip?
Yes. Paul and his family are traveling to various places in Europe between 30'th of April and 10'th of May 2010. They have not planned the trip in great detail yet, except for the fight, rental car and first two days of stay in Zurich.

Does it cost me anything?
No. The only help that Paul is asking is information. No monetary requests will be made.

Will I be get any spam?
No. You will not be asked to sign up for anything and your e-mail is not revealed. You can always "Unlike" "European Traveler" in facebook, which will stop any messages from showing up on your Wall. You are in full control all the time.

I am not very familiar with the places that Paul is visiting. How can I contribute?
You may look for information on the web and respond with a comment. It is more important that you contribute than aim for perfection. Some information is always better than no information.

You may also contribute by spreading information about this experiment. Share this blog or the facebook page by twitter, you blog or facebook. "Like" the posts that Paul make, which will make the posts visible at other's wall.

I would like to help people when there is a disaster. What can I do?
Become a fan of the "European Traveler", by clicking on Like. If this experiment is successful and deployed in real disasters, you will be informed by a Post at the Wall of "European Traveler".

How is the location determined?
Location is determined by using the Web Location API from Ericsson Labs, which works in Sweden. This is completely passive and does not require any special software or mobile broadband at the phone. Outside Sweden location is determined from certain keywords within the SMS.

Posts on the facebook page of European Traveler are not showing up on my wall. Why?
Facebook determines the posts which are relevant to you to display them in your wall. Show facebook that you are interested, by "Like" in the posts. It is a good idea to check the facebook page of "European Traveler" regularly until posts show up.

I want to play with this, Is there a sandbox?
Sure. Within Sweden, except for tele2
SMS "sandbox (message)" to 72223 (no quotes or brackets) and your message will show up at "Sandbox of European Traveler"

International and tele2. Location determination is not yet available.
SMS "labs sandbox (message) to +46737494050

Your first message will not display your location and you will be asked to authorize. Your second message will display your location.

I have an idea about another great use of this technology. Where can I share?
I have found a bug. Where can I submit the bug report?
I would like to contribute to the source code, or I would like to participate in testing. How can I help?
Great. Let us use our collective brains to enhance this, and make the world a better place. Please create a post at "European Traveler".

I have more questions. What can I do?
Add a comment or place a new Post. This FAQ list will be periodically updated, depending on internet availability during the trip.

Technical Details
This was made possible by a merge of Ericsson Lab API, google maps API and facebook API. Ericsson Lab is an initiative by Ericsson, they have a large set of APIs related to location, mobile apps, sms and much more enabling you to develop similar applications.
This is a mashup of various services available in the open.

Step 1: A user sends in an SMS.
Ericsson Labs provides an SMS Send & Receive API, which will issue a web callback when an sms is received. The callback is hosted on a server.

Step 2: The location of the user is determined.
The location is determined by using the Web Location API provided by Ericsson Labs. This network determined position determination, and hence does not rely on any special software, and ordinary phones can be located. If the location could not be determined, the SMS text is interpreted to determine the location.

Step 3: Geocode the Location to translate from location to address.
The geocoding is done by the google maps API.

Step 4: Post the message with the location, if available to facebook
This is done by using the Facebook Stream Publish API.

Step 5: When a comment is posted in response to a post, send the comment back via SMS.
The Facebook Stream Get API to monitor new comments. The new comments are extracted and send by SMS to the person who originated the post by using the Ericsson Labs SMS Send & Receive API.

Potential use of this technology during disaster