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Quakebook - a triumph of good will and social media

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:20 UK time, Monday, 28 March 2011

It started with a call issued on Twitter on Friday 18th March, a week after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Now hundreds of writers, video journalists and editors around the world have come together to create a book designed to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross.

Quakebook cover

Quakebook is the brainchild of a British man living in Japan who goes under the sobriquet
"Our Man in Abiko". After his Tweet, he fleshed out his idea in a blog post that Friday.

"I'm looking for contributions from anyone who has something to say about the earthquake (eg where were you when it happened, what did you feel? How have you helped? Did it change anything in the way you live your life? Are you coping with grief? Or just bewildered behind a barrage of media images?) I'm not looking for windy poetic stuff, just honest stuff. Aim to write 250-300 words or so - equivalent to a short blog post (or one page of a book)."

What followed looks like a triumph of the collective good will and organisational power of the internet. Contributions flowed in from Japanese people and expatriates caught up in the earthquake and its aftermath. Video images, photos and graphics were also supplied, but perhaps most important was the role played by those people around the world who wanted to help with the editing and organisation of the whole ambitious project.

Among them was a Cumbria-based writer and community organiser Lindsey Annison. She told me why she had got involved: "As an author, but without the necessary credentials to actually write for the book - I hadn't lived through the earthquake - I offered to help in any way I could."

As well as editing some contributions, Lindsey set up a blog for the project, and used the corporate social network Yammer to help organise the massively complex operation that publishing a book in a week involves.

I spoke to her on Sunday, when she'd been up for 36 hours as the project struggled to get over the finishing line. There were all sorts of questions she and the other Quakebook volunteers were trying to answer - could they get Amazon to sell the book, what sort of copyright arrangements did they need, what should they charge.

"If you'd planned this, it would have taken months," Lindsey explained. " There are editors in Brisbane, the US, Japan, all over the place. It just wouldn't be possible without the internet and social media."

A glimpse at the activity on Twitter, where the Quakebook community is using the hashtag #quakebook, gives a flavour of how the project has been organised. Ourmaninbiko - the man with the original idea - tweeted this:

"People of twitter, what do you think about a creative commons (ie cool to copy) copyright for #quakebook Good/bad for charity? Thoughts?"

Others were using the hashtag to try to persuade Stephen Fry to tweet about the book - they've already had a celebrity endorsement from Yoko Ono. There is also a Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel, so it should be possible to promote Quakebook through social media without ever having to spend a cent on advertising.

The book will appear first as a digital download, and then it is hoped that there will be a print edition as quickly as possible.

As I write it is difficult to say just how successful this unique publishing project will prove. But it has already provided a masterclass in how to use the internet to organise something ambitious and complex.

It has also demonstrated just how much good will there is out there amongst the global online community, if only you can tap into it.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think what they have done is fantastic, and I can't wait to read the book. I want to buy a copy for my grandchildren, this will be the first of its kind. I guess many more will follow their example, JFDI Big Society in action, using their skills, knowledge and data for the greater good.
    Well done for blogging about it, spread the joy.

  • Comment number 2.

    Don't forget _Stranded_ -- the magazine that Andrew Losowsky and a bunch of others (including myself) put together while stranded due to the volcano in 2010, with all profits to International Rescue Committee. See

  • Comment number 3.

    There is perhaps a role for the media here; wider than just publicity.

    If I was a con artist, I might have been able to leverage the goodwill of others to pull this together, earn a load of money and then disappear without giving a penny to the named charity (The Japan Red Cross in this case). In these types of situations, where things move very fast, the media should be using its investigative resources to provide a bit of due diligence and assurance over the project so that buyers can be confident they're not being ripped off. Alternatively, the book should be "published" by the charity directly, or the funds held by a trusted escrow service.

    As the world moves faster, there is more scope for criminals to take advantage of tragic events (we see it already with spam linking to malware within hours of such disasters). The media, charities and others need to be equally fast in supporting and providing assurance for genuine activities.

  • Comment number 4.

    this is a really interesting initiative. the strongest earthquake i have experienced was of 7.9, in 2001 in el salvador. there are tremors there all the time, and anyone who has been through a strong earthquake experience knows that they can come at any time, when you are anywhere. when the subject comes up, im always interested in asking people - what were you doing when it hit? (personally, at 11am on a saturday, still sleeping but suddenly on the floor, and trying to make it outside dodging all the objects in the house). everyone living their daily lives, suddenly joined together by a collective experience. i hope a print version does come out, i would definitely buy it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Also don't forget 100 Stories for Haiti launched in early 2010 in response to the earthquake there, 50 Stories for Pakistan in response to the floods summer 2010, 100 Stories for Queensland in response to the flooding there at the start of this year, and also New Sun Rising, which will be out in a few weeks in response to the Japanese earthquake & tsunami - slightly different from Quakebook in that it, like the others I've mentioned, is a fiction anthology rather than reflections on experiencing the event itself.

    All worthy projects, and all donating proceeds to the relevant disaster relief efforts.

  • Comment number 6.

    There seems to be quite a groundswell of initiatives to raise money for Japan, including a number of arts-based ones. The UK -based Japan Art Auction is currently collecting work for an auction in Manchester on April 7th, bids also taken online at . Online bids are via the British Red Cross so I trust will be seen as transparent.

  • Comment number 7.

    Mr. Cellan-Jones, I am one of the editors of Quakebook (the one in Brisbane, California) and I would like to personally thank you for writing this lovely piece about our book and our efforts to help the Japanese people. Objective and upbeat press coverage such as yours is going to go a long way towards making the Quakebook project an amazing success. Thanks again, and cheers. --Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California

  • Comment number 8.

    Mr. Rigby, I assure you that our intentions are pure and will be carried out as we have claimed and planned. I understand your skepticism about ventures like Quakebook, considering the unscrupulous things people have done using charitable work as a smoke screen for criminal activity. However, if you want to know more about our project and its motives, please follow the link to our blog, which is in the article above. Or you may contact me directly on Twitter, where my ID is @ThatDanRyan.

  • Comment number 9.

    I didn't get any feeling of 'a rip off in motion'; Great concept, clearly working, cyber community coming together springing from one idea, to anothers idea, developing and growing. I will buy and recommend the book to friends and family.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great idea and potentially great value for this disaster charity initiative - BUT BEWARE those who could easily exploit this by copying a legitimate downlaod and possibly offering the Quakebook from an unauthorised source and diverting revenues to criminal coffers.

  • Comment number 11.

    johndubyah makes an excellent point in his comment, and I appreciate it. Vigilance for such things is an unfortunate necessity. I wish it were not, and I hope no one tries to rip people off disguised as our project. And I'd like to thank all of you so far for your comments.

  • Comment number 12.

    So presumably this is in English? A double-edged effect of all this global networking is that while increasing numbers of people can communicate internationally, language is not a neutral medium, or at least it comes loaded with a particular history. I'd be interested to hear what Japanese people think about this and to what extent people have felt able to contribute in their second or other language. Does this present an editing challenge? Were translators involved, or will they be?

  • Comment number 13.

    And there's a project on 'Daily Paintworks' aiming to raise money for a list of charities for Japan.
    Buy a painting and contribute that way.
    (I have no personal interest)

  • Comment number 14.

    There is a current twitter appeal for japan on: @simonkingesq .

  • Comment number 15.

    A fantastic initiative. The voice-over/audiobook community of the UK and US have done a similar thing, creating a 3.5hr audiobook for Japan in just 4 days. It can be found at The whole thing was organised on Twitter and has had some fantastic support from around the world.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good for them, and I wish them joy.

    I am astonished by how completely the Christchurch, NZ earthquake has dropped off the seismograph. Small in absolute comparison, but losing 0.005% of the national population is almost as dramatic an impact as losing 0.015%.

    Maybe this is a good thing - Christchurch needs the tourists to forget the bad moment and think about the pleasure of visiting what I am sure is still a beautiful area. But it seems a little hard on the poor souls there, being so completely forgotten by the rest of the world.


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