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Monday, January 05, 2009

New Gaza War Reports Combine Tweets, Maps, SMS

New Gaza War Reports Combine Tweets, Maps, SMS

By Noah Shachtman 

Jazeera_mash_upGetting tweets from the war zone is so 2008. The latest social media advance combines tools like Twitter, test messaging, and online mapping to gather up first-hand reports, straight from Gaza.

The effort, from Al Jazeera Labs, just got started; the reporting is still spotting, and the technology is very much in the testing phase. But the idea is for residents of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank to send quick updates about the conflict from their computers or mobile phones, through SMS or Twitter. The results are then verified, and posted to a Microsoft Virtual Earth map.

"Heavy fighting continues in eastern Gaza. Loud explosions, presumed to be artillery, and machine gun fire heard," 
one report says. "Palestinian medics confirm Israeli soldiers have shot and killed a 20-year-old man during clashes at a Gaza protest in Qalqilya, West Bank," reads another. "Nine Egyptian lorries carrying medicine and aid have entered Gaza," notes a third.

As Zero Intelligence Agents notes, Al Jazeera is using an open-source software tool called Ushahidi(Swahili for "testimony") for the online reporting experiment. The program was created in early 2008, to document the post-election violence in Kenya. Coders in Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Netherlands and the United States have contributed to its development.

Meanwhile, that oh-so-old school way to follow war news, Twitter, is bubbling with minute-to-minute updates from both sides of the Israel-Hamas divide.

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