Starbird's Research Helping in Haiti
Starbird and her research partners at the University of Colorado in Boulder have developed social media technology that is aiding workers and volunteers in Haiti in getting help where it's needed most.
Specifically coded Twitter messages match the people who need help with those who are providing it. Starbird and nearly a dozen fellow students have been working long hours to implement the coding and let responders in Haiti know that it's there.
"We've been working non-stop the past couple of weeks trying to pass on the tweets we've received and see (they get) to the right places," Starbird said.
Starbird was the 1997 Naismith Player of the Year, after leading Stanford to the three straight Final Fours. The lithe guard was the Cardinal's all-time leading scorer until Candice Wiggins broke the record in 2008. She spent nine years playing professional basketball in the now defunct ABL and the WNBA before returning to graduate school. She received her degree in computer science at Stanford. She has always been a self-professed "geek."
Starbird is working toward her Ph.D in the A.T.L.A.S. (Alliance of Technology, Learning and Society) at the University of Colorado. Last year, she was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.
"Having gone to Stanford, I've run into a lot of smart people at Stanford, but Kate was one of the smartest people I've ever met," said Starbird's former teammate Kate Paye, now an assistant coach for the Cardinal. "She was always a techie, but she's also an excellent writer and her intelligence comes across in so many different levels."
Starbird's academic advisor, Dr. Leysia Palen, said she did not know of Starbird's athletic background when they met a year and a half ago.
"I met her as a graduate student and I was immediately impressed by her abilities," Palen said. "I think what's so impressive about her is she brings all of the discipline she must have had as an athlete to her academics and research. She's going to be a great scholar. She's analytical and humane. I think she's redefined for me what it means to be well-rounded."
Starbird initially began her doctorate research on how to leverage social media to increase interest in science among girls. But now the 34-year-old Seattle native has a new project with immediate impact, using social media to assist in disaster relief.
Starbird's research is part of a $2.8 million, four-year grant given to Project EPIC (Empowering the Public with Information in a Crisis). Palen heads Project EPIC.
Starbird researched more than 50,000 tweets sent during the Red River floods and the Oklahoma grass fires last spring.
Using those events as a model for how social media is being utilized, Starbird and her colleagues have created special tweet syntax that allows Twitter messages to be marked up with specific coding, processed by a computer and relayed to disaster response tools.
Starbird calls the technology "Tweak the Tweet" and the idea won her and her research partner second-place at a national technology competition in December.
Starbird likened the use of the syntax to an emergency channel on the radio.
The research group in Colorado is now "deploying" the syntax to responders and volunteers in Haiti.
"We had plans to formalize this project, use more tools, set up a top-down management structure, but then this event unfortunately happened and it's very much been a seat-of-the-pants thing," Palen said. "We just needed to get it out there with a staff of students. Some people have been here around the clock. Our intent was not for this to be an experiment, but everything is an experiment in disaster relief."
Starbird said that the syntax could also be helpful with relief efforts and rebuilding efforts down the line.
"Ideally, we could allow groups to communicate and organize using the "Tweak the Tweet" syntax where needs and offers for help could be matched," Starbird said.
"We are just trying to leverage some of the knowledge and some of the experience we've gained and put some ideas out there," Starbird said. "We don't know how much it's helped, but even a drop in the bucket would make it worthwhile for us and it will be very helpful for the next event.
"Our goal right now is getting information to people on the ground," Starbird said. "I think there is going to be time and energy spent on this for a long period of them. We are sending out ideas out in the world and we hope that other people can use them."
Paye said she is proud of her old friend.
"What's neat to see is that Bird was always shy and a little introverted and now she's using all of her intelligence and skills and talent to positive impact other people's lives," Paye said.