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The People vs. the Deepwater Horizon Oil Mess

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, May 27 2010

An unidentified person encounters "orange putty-like stuff" in Waveland, Mississippi, in a photo from the Flickr feed of Grassroots Mapping , an organization teaching people to make build-your-own satellites to do volunteer cartography of the Gulf Coast.

There's a longer, better researched piece to be written about how people are using collaborative tools and social media to respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil mess, with a particular focus on what's actually accomplished by different means of engagement. But, for now, here is a handful of pointers to some of the more interesting Gulf Coast projects that have come over the transom in the last few days.

A poster from the organization Grassroots Mapping showing you can go about assembling your own, low-priced satellite capable of taking photos that can be used to map the Gulf Coast oil spill.

An outfit called Grassroots Mapping, started by an MIT Media Lab professor named Jeffrey Warren, has pioneered the use of balloons, kites, and cameras to map boundaries and other geographic things. That might sound humble, but the big ambition is to "invert the traditional power structure of cartography" by building homemade mapping satellites, seen above, for what seems to be as little as a hundred bucks. On the Gulf Coast, they're mapping the extent of the spill, so as not to rely solely upon BP's assessments and to produce "documentation that will be essential for environmental and legal use in coming years." Here's where you go if you'd like to help map.

PBS Newshour is, for their part, collecting peoples' ideas for how you stop the leak, and clean up the existing spill. They're using Google Moderator running on the YouTube platform to do it, and folks aren't kidding around. Suggestions run along the lines of "[using] MOP sorbent deployed by MOP canons," which, if nothing else, sounds encouraging. About 7,390 suggestions have rolled in, but there's no real indication on the site just where all that genius is intended to be directed.

An entry in Greenpeace UK's contest to rebrand the energy company BP.

There is, of course, the fake BP Twitter feed, successful enough to have spun off feeds dedicated to invented character; meet @BP_Terry. The whole shtick is actually pretty funny, considering the circumstances. ("Eating at a very expensive restaurant and spilled salad dressing on my pants. Not sure how to tackle this."). But the humor is pointed, political, and serves to paint BP as a clueless corporate giant. The company has mostly left the feed alone. Though it isn't exactly clear what they could do if they wanted to here, given that the feed is plainly ridiculous.

The folks over at Greenpeace UK are taking a more direct route to mocking the company. They're sponsoring a contest to redesign BP's green-and-yellow starburst logo, with the aim of using this crisis to shape the critical long-term debate about where the energy industry goes from here. "Your brief is to create a logo for BP which shows that the company is not 'beyond petroleum'," read the rules, "they're up to their necks in tar sands." Have a look at the early entries.

There's also this new video of a, well, dumb eel inspecting the underwater oil gusher. Not social media, exactly. But it is something to watch.