Yesterday, feeling rather overwhelmed by the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina I posted a somewhat snarky note about how quickly we have gone from using the internet to generate millions of dollars in relief and priceless information about such catastrophes to using the disasters as launch pads for corporate or political marketing - "Hey, look how quickly the Democratic Party and United Airlines stepped up to offer aid to those who are suffering."
I still think this blatant alignment of corporate or political interests with the real needs and sorrows of real people is unfortunate, to say the very least. I've since received several more solicitations to give from entities not really in the disaster-relief business. I'm done with these. However, I am interested in two other philanthropic phenomena now happening, related to the hurricane and possible only through internet technology.
MoveOn.org - a web community first developed to protest the incessant harping about President Clinton's sexual misconduct has started something called Hurricane Housing, which will try to use the mass organizing power of the internet to help match those who need shelter with those who have a bed, a room or a couch to offer.
Craigslist has also become a virtual message board for people looking for loved ones - its lost and found section is filled with notices asking for information on people who have not yet been heard from.
These two uses of the net are compelling humanitarian applications of this pervasive technology. Corporate or political marketing spam disguised as charity is not, its merely invasive and crass.