- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2011

TOKYO (AP) - As Japan grapples with an unprecedented triple disaster _ earthquake, tsunami, nuclear crisis _ the Web has spawned creativity and innovation online amid a collective desire to ease suffering.

Once the magnitude of the March 11 disaster became clear, the online world began asking, “How can we help?”

And for that, social media offered the ideal platform for good ideas to spread quickly, supplementing efforts launched by giants like Google and Facebook.

A British teacher living in Abiko city, just east of Tokyo, is leading a volunteer team of bloggers, writers and editors producing “Quakebook,” a collection of reflections, essays and images of the earthquake that will be sold in the coming days as a digital publication. Proceeds from the project will go to the Japanese Red Cross, said the 40-year-old, who goes by the pseudonym “Our Man in Abiko.”

The entirely Twitter-sourced project started with a single tweet exactly a week after the earthquake. Within an hour, he had received two submissions, which soon grew to the 87 that now comprise the book.

Quakebook involves some 200 people in Japan and abroad, and the group is in negotiations to sell the download on Amazon.com. It didn’t take long for others to notice. Twitter itself has sent out a tweet about Quakebook, as has Yoko Ono. Best-selling novelist Barry Eisler wrote the foreword for the book. Organizers, including Our Man in Abiko, will hold a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Friday.

“I just thought I want to do something,” he said in a telephone interview. “I felt completely helpless.”

Another project, “World’s 1000 Messages for Japan,” is an effort to convey thoughts from around the globe. Writers can leave short notes on Facebook or through e-mail, which a group of volunteers then translate into Japanese. The translations are then posted on Twitter as well as the group’s website.

“The news of the earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown in Japan has mostly been horrifying. But it has also served as a reminder of the strength and resolve that comes out of Japanese culture,” said one recent message on the project’s Facebook page.

The calamitous events that transfixed people worldwide led to a jump in traffic among social networking sites _ typical after recent major disasters elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster that likely killed more than 18,000 people, phone and cellular networks were either down or overwhelmed with traffic.

So people turned to the Internet to track down friends and family, and connect with those who saw the disaster unfold firsthand. In Tokyo, which suffered minimal damage, commuters wanted to know if their trains were running, and whether their neighborhoods would be subject to rolling electricity blackouts due to damage to nuclear and conventional power plants.

Figures released this week show that millions flocked to sites like Twitter following the earthquake and tsunami. Its audience grew by a third to 7.5 million users during March 7-13 compared with the previous week, according to the Nielsen NetRatings Japan.

Video streaming provider Ustream and Japanese video sharing platform Nico Nico Douga also saw viewership climb. Ustream’s audience more than doubled to 1.4 million, driven largely by public broadcaster NHK’s channel featuring live coverage online, the report said.

The numbers underscore the increasingly valuable role that social media, particularly Twitter, can play in the wake of natural disasters. The microblogging site helped drive fundraising after the earthquake in Haiti last year, and it served as a critical communication tool after the New Zealand earthquake in February.

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