Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Organizing My Malawi Contacts

Thanks to Nchenga and Sue Makin for sending along more contact information about the nursing crisis in Malawi.

Am starting to collate all the names and contact information I've received into a single data set so that I can keep track of everyone.

As part of that process I've discovered a new (to me at least) use of the Google e-mail program. By adding certain contacts to a distribution list called Malawi, I'm generating a nice database of names and addresses.

But it doesn't stop there. By exporting my Malawi contact list to an Excel spreadsheet, I can sort the names on certain key values--for example, where they are located geographically or by topics.

This sort of structured data is becoming more and more important to how journalists do their jobs. (Even back in the 1990s, we would often send out blanket emails to a our own personal distribution lists looking for sources on particular issues.)

But there comes a point at which even e-mail becomes too unwieldy. (Just what is the upper limit on how many e-mail relationships can you handle at once--anyway?)

One of the people who may help us crash through those barriers is Judith Donath at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Donath gave a presentation about "social media" at the Berkman Center at lunch today that just blew my mind. But I think I'm going to have to sleep on it a bit--and study MIT's social media website a little more closer before I can even begin to talk about it coherently. I have a feeling though, that there's going to be plenty of meat there for folks who want to organize global conversations on important health issues.

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