Trying to contact people in tornado-ravaged Joplin, MO, or somewhat-less-ravaged North Minneapolis? Interested in finding out what you can do to help these communities and the people who survived last weekend's storms? Social media can help. Yesterday, I found a Facebook page that's aggregating information and updates on North Minneapolis. It includes info for volunteers and victims, including places where newly homeless can find food and shelter, and how to tell if the contractor who showed up at your house after a storm is trying to scam you.
That site linked me to another, Joplin-centric information clearinghouse, also on Facebook. Like the Minneapolis site, it includes information for survivors looking for food, shelter, and services like a mobile laundromat (!), as well as providing a forum where people can ask about the fate of loved ones, and find out where to donate and what's really needed.
These sites aren't perfect—for instance, while the Minneapolis community seems to be managed, it looks like anyone can post on the wall of the Joplin site, so there's nobody verifying that all the information posted is correct—but they do provide necessary info in a centralized, constant, and populist way that wouldn't have been possible pre-Internet. Great stuff!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.