•By David Pierce
•January 17, 2010 |
•6:17 pm |
•Categories: Crowdsourcing, Media, Search
Google engineers have created a portal to collect and disseminate whatever may be known about the fate of people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, an attempt to create a single clearinghouse for information that is being culled by plenty of sites but remains overall a dispersed and disorganized mess.
The idea is to get the world’s media and NGOs to coalesce around what would amount to a single, authoritative Haiti victim Wiki for anything that might be known about the hundreds of thousands of people killed, wounded and left homeless by last Tuesday’s quake, which leveled major portions of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and left some 200,000 and counting dead.
The site, Google Crisis Response: Haiti Effort, is scraping other sites and soliciting information directly from the public. There is an embeddable widget and an API is in the works so that the service can go viral while remaining organized. The service can be access in English, French and Creole.
This had been a loosely organized effort by the IT community at large until Google expressed an interest in taking responsibility for it, according to MIT research scientist Chris Csikszentmihályi, who has taken it upon himself to spread the word. There are simply too many, albeit well-meaning sites trying to connect people with friends and loved ones Haiti to many any one of them effective, Csikszentmihályi says.
“In the response to the earthquake in Haiti, many organizations worked to create sites where people could find one another, or least information about their loved ones,” Csikszentmihályi, Director of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, said in a statement. “This excellent idea has been undermined by its success: within 24 hours it became clear that there were too many places where people were putting information, and each site is a silo.”
The site makes it easy to enter information about any person in Haiti. There’s space for personal information, like name and address, as well as a place for a description of the person and an image. There’s also room for status updates, which let anyone looking know whether or not that person has been seen or spoken to since the earthquake, where they are and how they’re doing.
By just searching for name, anyone can see all the information provided, as well as who provided it, to get more information about family and loved ones who might still be separated. In a Haiti with basically no means for communication right now, that information is invaluable.
Google’s engineers are working on a volunteer basis, Csikszentmihalyi, who has no affiliation with the search giant, told wired.com.
The application is totally public, and information isn’t being verified by anyone. The database is already huge, with some major organizations like the Red Cross already working with Google. With Haiti turned upside down, this kind of organization and centralization is crucial to bringing people back together with those they’ve lost.
“We recognize that many newspapers have put precious resources into developing a people-finder system,” Csikszentmihalyi said in his statement. “We nonetheless urge them to make their data available to the Google project, and standardize on the Google widget. Doing so will greatly increase the number of successful reunions.”