Twitter brings world to Japan charity

2011-05-10 20:33

Tokyo - An avid Twitter user's desire to help Japan recover from the devastating March earthquake and tsunami has resulted in a charity e-book based on material gathered from around the world - all within three days.

With Yoko Ono and cult sci-fi author William Gibson among the contributors, the e-book "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake" was available for download within a month and raised $25 000 for the Japan Red Cross in its first two weeks.

Now a print version is in the works, along with planned translations into Japanese, Dutch, and German as well as a bilingual Japanese-English version.

None of it would have happened without Twitter, said "Our Man in Abiko," who prefers to go only by his Twitter name to keep the focus on charity raising.

"I just looked at it as a two-fold thing: one, let's make some money to help people, and two, let's record this event. And this was the only way I knew how," the 40-year-old British man, who has lived in Japan for four years, said.

The inspiration came to him about a week after the March 11 disaster as he was taking a shower at his apartment in Abiko, a Tokyo satellite city, wondering what he could do to help.

He sent out a tweet asking people for their impressions, stories, pictures or art - anything at all inspired by the quake, from Japan or overseas. Whatever he got within 48 hours would form the basis for a book.

Target time to first draft: a few days.

Now baby, NOW

Within an hour, two pieces had come in, a story and a photo. Within a day, 70 entries had piled up and the project had gained momentum while keeping its sense of urgency.

"Many people saying what's the deadline. Do people ask quake survivors when they'd like to be rescued? The answer is now baby, NOW," Our Man In Abiko tweeted soon after his initial shout-out for contributions.

Over three days, ultimately, he had 89 contributions from a range of people including some in the disaster zone, journalists covering the story, relatives of those hit by the disaster, and former foreign residents of Japan.

He tweeted for help with the editing and got responses from three people: a follower of his tweets in northern California, a foreign resident of Tokyo who had flown to Los Angeles as panic set in over the nuclear crisis after the disaster, and someone in New York whom he still only knows by their Twitter name.

"Whenever I had a problem or needed help, I just asked Twitter," he said.

Eventually, more than 200 writers, editors, designers and translators from all over the world got involved, showing how keen people were to help.

Amazon and the Sony Reader Store waived their usual fees and costs, helping the book rapidly rack up the fund raising contributions.

"It's therapeutic for the writers to put their feelings down - and it's therapeutic for those buying the book because they're doing something to help," he said.

But getting the book into print was seen as key to keep the fund raising going. Here, too, Twitter helped clear the way.

Lower-management Amazon staff contacted by one of those following the project at first kept their distance on the grounds that the company wouldn't want to be accused of cashing in on a disaster by charging its usual publishing costs.

But then one contributor with connections at the company headquarters in Seattle stepped in, while Our Man sent tweets to Amazon.co.jp's top representative, who had a Twitter account of his own.

Eventually their efforts paid off, and the company has agreed to sell the book as a print-on-demand issue with no costs involved, due out soon.

Our Man in Abiko said the response to his call, which surprised him, showed the potential of Twitter to bring the world together when needed.

"I have no big connections and yet I've been able to pull this all together. If I can do it, there's no reason why a lot of other people with a similar mindset couldn't do it too," he said.

Read more on:    twitter  |  japan  |  social networking
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