Remembering Katrina: And thoughts on why Twitter is not a blog shrunk down to “micro-” size

I can’t go through these few days each year without thinking back to 2005 and how I anticipated Katrina approaching the gulf coast leading up to August 29 and then gradually realized the severity of what was taking place. By reviewing my blog posts, I can see that even I did not understand how bad things were until late on the 30th or early on September 1. By September 2, I was doing all I could to point to Nashvillians and web-based efforts responding to the human needs caused by the aftermath of Katrina.

As Katrina is now seared into our consciousness as being one of the worst natural disasters in American history, it is helpful to me to glance through my posts over those few days — as I used this blog more as “a diary” then than perhaps at any other time over the past nine years. I can see how I (and collectively, “we”) went from being concerned to “shocked” at what was taking place.

For example, it was not until September 3, that I wrote a a short post called “Sinking in”:

Perhaps symbolic of the collective delay in responding to Katrina has been how Amazon.com has responded. Universally praised for turning over its front page to tsunami relief almost immediately, Amazon.com did not add a donation link of any size (noted by Jason Kottke) to its front page until three days after the hurricane. Today, six days after, the dominant position of the Amazon.com front page is finally devoted to Katrina relief. This is not a criticism of Amazon’s response, rather a curious observation of how there was an apparent initial disbelief by lots of people that an unprecedented tragedy of historic proportions was unfolding. (I’ll reserve my criticism for Apple, who has hyped the Mighty Mouse in the dominant position all week.)

Having a blog can help me recall how my colleagues and I at Hammock, on September 14, adopted a magazine in New Orleans called Louisiana Cookin’ after learning their staff had been evacuated to places all over the country. Our assistance was more technical and “holding hands” and becoming friends than anything, but it lasted a few issues and I’m happy to see the magazine is still being published today (and I just renewed my subscription).

Because I have a blog, I can review and recall the impact on me and my then 15-year-old son (and photos) of spending a couple of days working in coastal Mississippi with a volunteer group from our church six months after Katrina. And then, almost a year after the storm and aftermath, how he and I travelled to New Orleans to finally meet our new Louisiana Cookin’ friends and join them in celebrating some outstanding young chefs who were (and still are) committed to continue making the region home to some of the most wonderful food in America.

Because I blog, I can look back and read at how that trip both made me realize a part of New Orleans will likely never return, while marveling how another part of it came back to life almost immediately:

While an incomprehensibly broad swath of neighborhoods are still struggling through the very earliest stages of coming back to life, and may never recover fully, — and these range from inner-city to affluent neighborhoods — such a tourist-iconic spot as Jackson Square was stunningly beautiful when I strolled through it Monday. And all those seedy joints on Bourbon Street are still seedy — in a touristy, seedy way.

As I reflect on all of this now, I wonder how much of this blogging would have been relegated to Twitter if Katrina struck today. I guess I would be able to reflect back on what I “tweeted” using FriendFeed*, but having a calendar view or archive of a period of time, or the use of keywords, categories and tags to help me recall and reorganize my impressions — would they be available to me? No.

Using Twitter is something I do with frequency and I believe it and other means of real-time expression can play a vital role during future events like Katrina (or in not-so-important-events as, say, while watching a football game). But tweeting (or what is often called “microblogging”) is not blogging. It’s not even microblogging, now that I think of it. Something called “microblogging” should have archives and tags. It’s something else, completely. And that’s not bad — indeed, it’s good. And as I’ll always admit, I don’t quite get Twitter — but that’s not going to stop me from using it. But the more I use it, but more I realize it’s not just a blog shrunk down to “micro” size.

Sidenote: Here’s a hack to address my concerns with “losing” the chronological context of tweets. As Twitter does have the blog-conventions of RSS and permalinks, you can set up a Tumblr.com account and stream all of your tweets into it. You’ll at least have a nice archive of your tweets.

A year of Katrina blog posts


Photo: One year after Katrina, a house in New Orleans’ 9th Ward.
[Credit: K. Hammock, August 20, 2006.]

A year of Katrina blog posts: One year ago, at 8:45 a.m. on August 28, 2005, I made my first Katrina-related post: “New Orleans mandatory evacuation”.

As I’ve explained before, I’ve followed hurricanes on this weblog because my brothers, their families and my mother live in Mobile and my wife grew up in the Tampa Bay area and all of her family still live there. I tend to watch where those hurricane tracking maps are heading.

Katrina caused floods and major damage in Mobile, but in comparison to the damage along the Mississippi Gulf coast and in New Orleans and the rest of southeast Louisiana, Katrina’s effect on Mobile and bay area did not receive much media coverage. My family was spared any direct damage. However, a brother who is an ER doctor in Mobile worked for weeks (months) straight on patients streaming into Mobile from the affected areas. When I learned of my family’s safety, I was grateful, but I couldn’t comprehend what was taking place in New Orleans.

I did the only thing I knew I could do: start linking. A lot of those early posts were links of frustration. There were lots of people trying to set up survivor databases, but it became apparent that creating ‘silos’ of missing people was not the right approach. And so, bloggers and other tech-savvy folks moved fairly rapidly to form an open-source, cooperative approach to merging together the data being collected.

I also posted whenever I saw a response by groups and individuals in my hometown, Nashvhille. I noted then that volunteers from Nashville have a 200-year-old precedent for defending New Orleans. I don’t know how much help those posts were in actually guiding people to certain resources, but I received some appreciative e-mail from some folks who found loved ones via the online efforts I pointed them to.

Last night was the first time I re-read any of those posts. Now many have broken links and dated facts. Their only likely purpose from now on is to provide me a personal and chronological recollection of my emotional reactions to the disaster. It may sound selfish — especially considering the situation but having that personal record of what I was thinking at the time is one of the most compelling reasons for why I blog. I figured out a long time ago that I could probably have more readers if I’d stick to one topic and run top-ten lists, but when I look back over those posts, I know this is the reason I blog.

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What is New Orleans’ future?

What is New Orleans’ future? The Sunday NY Times has a story that captures that confusing place where debates often lead.

Quote:

“At one edge of this city’s future are the extravagant visions of its boosters…At the other extreme are the gloomy predictions of the pessimists….Somewhere between these unrealistic visions lies a glimpse of the city’s real future a year after Hurricane Katrina, say many planners, demographers and others here who have been deeply involved in rebuilding.”

Other Katrina+1 links:

Storycorps: Survial Stories
NPR Weekend Saturday: “Imagining a New City in New Orleans” This is a lot like the conversations I heard in New Orleans last week
Rising Tide Conference Wiki. Related to the blogger-led conference taking place now.
Times-Picayune/Nola.com: “Katrina: One Year Later

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New Orleans is open

New Orleans is open: On Flickr, I’ve posted some photos from the Louisiana Cookin‘ Magazine’s 2006 Chefs to Watch benefit dinner Monday night in New Orleans. As this will likely be my last New Orleans-visit post, I also want to point to this AP story and stress what it points out: The part of New Orleans most tourists and convention-goers know is up-and-running. While an incomprehensibly broad swath of neighborhoods are still struggling through the very earliest stages of coming back to life, and may never recover fully, — and these range from inner-city to affluent neighborhoods — such a tourist-iconic spot as Jackson Square was stunningly beautiful when I strolled through it Monday. And all those seedy joints on Bourbon Street are still seedy — in a touristy, seedy way. The beignets at Cafe Du Monde still taste exactly like you remember them tasting and there’s still powdered sugar and pigeons on the floor of the outside area. The Superdome is about to reopen and the Aquarium reopened a few months ago. The food is still glorious (as you’ll see on my Flickr photos). It’s amazing to me that the part of New Orleans that most conventioneers, Sugar Bowl fans and tourists know is still pretty much like you’ll remember. Even all those shops along Magazine Avenue are still there. Considering all of the businesses I passed by in other parts of town that are boarded up (including suburban malls and well-know chain retailers), there are an amazing amount of “wonders” to still experience in New Orleans.

According to the AP article:

“The state economic development department estimates 81,000 businesses in Louisiana were damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. Though more than half reopened their doors by the end of 2005, it’s been a struggle for the rest to start up again or remain in business. More than 18,000 businesses have closed permanently since the storms.

That’s a staggering number, but, like any statistic, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s another quote:

“Harris said the merchants, like most of the tourism industry, are trying to overcome the image that the entire city was destroyed. ‘We’re all hoping people will realize the Central Business District, the French Quarter and the city are basically fine,’ he said. ‘The outlying areas will take years to rebuild, but the business area of the city is basically fine.”

One last thing: It may be in a few weeks or years from now, but one day, you’ll be in New Orleans for a convention or a tradeshow or a sporting event or Mardi Gras or for a vacation. When that happens, I hope you’ll make it a point to seek out restaurants owned by chefs and local restauranteurs. Seek out local restaurants that reopened as soon as possible after Katrina. Not only do they prepare and serve the best food, they are New Orleans.

Update: The NY Times is running a similar story on Friday, a part of a series leading up to the first anniversary of Katrina.

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Dirty Coast T-Shirts

Dirty Coast T-Shirts: In looking among the thousands of T-shirts for sale that could document our visit to New Orleans, the 15-year-old and I discovered that most seem to be created by the intoxicated to be purchased by the intoxicated. (Admittedly, while we were thoroughly sober, we were looking in shops along a street synonymous with intoxication.)

One positive exception: shirts from the company Dirty Coast Press. Locally designed and screened, the shirts are biting, witty and not tourist-trap bait. The company sells their shirts online and if you are in New Orleans, you can purchase them at several stores, including: Style Lab for Men, Maple Street Book Store, Winky’s, Oliveaux, Still Perkin, Turncoats, Mojo Coffee Shop, and Theo’s Pizza.

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