Technical “Gifts” Silicon Valley Could Donate to Japan

Like everyone else, I’m utterly saddened, scared, and captivated about the triple-whammy Japan is going through. Like everyone else, I have donated money, I’m willing to donate more, and if I could go there and help, I would. I had an idea last night that I could help organize something, but friends were quick to point out that money right now may not be the problem. Specifically, they shared this NYT article from today, claiming that donations are pouring in faster than authorities and NGOs know what to do with them. I am confused. I know it’s easy to donate money via SMS, but maybe non-monetary donations are harder?

I was invited to the Kezai Society meeting tonight on this topic in Mountain View. I spoke up and raised this issue, and it ignited many new ideas, which I’ll share below. The basic message was as follows:

  1. Right now, the “short-term” needs are measured in about now to 3 months, say mid-June 2011.
  2. Therefore, what short-term technical needs do Japanese victims have?
  3. And, how can technologists and hackers help design things, or use existing systems, to help those in dire need?

Here are the ideas generated in just a few minutes:

  • Peer-to-Peer room & board for those who are homeless & lost their families. Someone cited an example of grandparents who lost their homes and entire families. Rather than waiting for a shelter, maybe they could live with others who have room? Imagine the psychological benefits of that, relatively speaking. I mentioned Airbnb, which no one had heard of, but they liked the concept.
  • SMS/location “heat maps” to track where people, shipments, supplies are. Anything to leverage the phone and location to get better information to people, as the government is very slow in this regard.
  • Message Boards organized around problems and responders. This could be like a lightweight Craigslist using SMS and location to enter problems and then match those problems with those nearby who could “respond.”

I’m sure there are 100s others. Maybe instead of donations, some big Silicon Valley firms and corporations could sponsor a hackathon award or something similar to get these tools built?