RealTime IT News

Bush Says Go Online to Offer Tsunami Support

UPDATED: While President Bush ramped up the United States' official efforts to help survivors in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Southwest Asia Dec. 26, he called on Americans to go online to help survivors.

Flanked by former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in a press conference Monday morning, George W. Bush laid out his plans to support relief operations in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, and told Americans to visit the USA Freedom Corps Web site for a list of reliable relief organizations to make donations.

Former presidents Bush and Clinton will lead the nation's individual and corporate efforts in disaster relief for the affected countries. In his Monday morning press conference, Bush said donations already made by citizens are an example for others to follow.

"We're showing the compassion of our nation in the swift response," he said from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "But the greatest source of America's generosity is not our government: it's the good heart of the American people. In the weeks since the tsunami struck, private citizens have contributed millions of dollars for disaster relief and reconstruction."

The president said cash is the best way for Americans to support relief efforts, and encouraged Americans to "contribute as they are able to do so." According to the USA Freedom Corps Web site, cash donations let relief agencies buy the exact items needed in each of the affected countries.

Online contributions are making a significant impact on relief efforts worldwide. Little more than a week after the tsunami tore across the Indian Ocean, online e-commerce site Amazon.com has raised nearly $13 million in donations to the American Red Cross (ARC) from almost 160,000 individual contributors.

Yahoo donated a Web site on behalf of the ARC, which allows individuals to donate money to the ARC in increments from $10 to $5,000. According to the site, approximately $3.8 million from more than 37,000 people has been raised so far.

The tech community, which delivered services and information just days after the catastrophe to help relief organizations, also continues to aid survivors.

The operators at ReliefSearch.org say they will donate 100 percent of the proceeds from its pay-per-click Web search service to the ARC and Direct Relief International. They encourage Web surfers to use the site's search engine for the next 30 days or so, rather than Google or Yahoo.

Ben Padnos, CEO of Done Ventures and owner of ReliefSearch.org, said he hopes to get one million hits within the next month to raise between $100,000 and $200,000. Currently, he's working to get the Web site's click-through traffic rates up from 10 cents to 15 cents.

The Internet community's and America's response to the disaster, he said, has been nothing short of amazing.

"I think it's just proof that the Internet is awesome, and what we can do as far as getting the word out with the quick dissemination of information and effort is awesome," Padnos said. "We have a responsibility, especially here in this country, where we're so lucky to be where we are and have the resources we have; to not make a difference would be a shame."

As far as "the quick dissemination of information," one need look no further than the blog. Since day one of the disaster, eyewitness reports have contributed immeasurably to describing the extent of the tsunami's destructive path.

Robert Scoble, author of the popular Scobleizer blog, said the "word-of-mouth" network created by blogs is only getting more efficient with time.

"It's amazing how fast things move from blogs to mainstream press (and into corporate board rooms) lately," he said in an e-mail interview. "Why? Because connectors like me can watch a very large number of sources (and do PubSub searches for, say, 'earthquake,' and watch what any blogger says about earthquakes), and then we can link to those for our own readership. So, news gets passed along the network very quickly."

As the affected countries scramble to re-establish communication links, another SMS text messaging company has decided to deliver its service for free, in the form of rebates for users who call to or from the region. According to the ARC, phone and cellular service is possible -- though sporadic -- in some parts of the region.

Until Wednesday, Vancouver, Canada-based Upside Wireless is letting its account users use its online SMS service, with a rebate for its existing users who've used the service since Friday.

Microsoft also joined the ranks of tech companies putting up in the face of disaster. Late last week, company officials announced they would donate $2 million in immediate aid to local and international relief agencies, and expect to donate another $1.5 million through a program matching charitable contributions made by Microsoft employees worldwide.