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InSTEDD: Open Source Software that saves lives

26 February 2010 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I gave a 20x20 talk at the Auckland Web Meetup last night (my last one before I move back to the States!) on the humanitarian software organization InSTEDD. The following are my slides with notes.

Last night was a lot of fun. The variety and quality of the speakers was excellent, the venue great, and of course everyone there was fun and interesting to talk with. If you are a webbie and in Auckland when the Meetup is on, you should definitely try to attend!

I probably should have been more clear in the set up for my presentation. I am not affiliated with InSTEDD directly. I have admired them from afar for a while now and talked with a couple of people who work for the organization in preparation for my talk. One of my goals for 2010 is to start contributing to their many open source projects.

Here are the slides. Notes for each below.

  1. Intro slide where I should have explained that I’m just an admirer of InSTEDD
  2. It’s been a rough 5 or 6 years. The Asian Tsunami, Samoan Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Pakistan and Haiti Earthquakes.
  3. What happens when a major disaster strikes? Loss of life & infrastructure, leads to unrest and disease outbreaks.
  4. How do aid organizations respond? The potential is there for duplication of effort or worse.
  5. As technologists, we wonder if there is something technology can do to save the day. In reality, software can be built that helps, but it’s people who do the saving.
  6. InSTEDD was founded by a TED prize winner and initially funded by Google’s philanthropic arm.
  7. InSTEDD’s mission is to build software that helps people respond more effectively to disasters and disease outbreaks.
  8. Smartly, all of InSTEDD’s technology can work via SMS.
  9. GeoChat is SMS on a map.
  10. Map of H1N1 (Swine Flu) cases during the height of the pandemic
  11. Information portal set up by InSTEDD immediately following the Haiti Earthquake.
  12. The equivalent to the Haiti quake in New Zealand would be if 100,000 people all died at once.
  13. InSTEDD established their camp at the Port au Prince airport. It was infested with tarantulas!
  14. The Emergency Information Service (EIS) allows Haitian locals to send free text messages in Creole, French, or English into the system. Their needs are then passed to appropriate aid agencies as well as aggregated and analyzed in real time by the groups on the ground trying to help.
  15. Heat map showing locations from which SMS messages were received as well as a graph of the number of messages coming into the system.
  16. Eduardo Jezierski is the Vice President, Engineering (I mistakenly called him the Director of Technology last night), for InSTEDD. He’s a hero to me for what he does.
  17. Not that page views, ROI, and conversion rates aren’t important…
  18. The great thing is, because their technology is open source, people like us, web developers, programmers, and designers, can contribute to this effort.
  19. InSTEDD has needs for both software development as well as solving tough design problems.
  20. To get involved, go to