21 March 2014

Help find the missing 777

Instead of watching the 24 hour news channels repeat speculation, you could participate in the search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Digital Globe has created a crowdsourcing web interface, called Tomnod, to help sift through massive amounts of satellite imagery. The interface works very smooth, giving viewers one small tile at a time but allowing them to build a larger image providing a macroscopic view of what they have already seen. The app keeps "score" by tracking how many tiles you've checked, how many markers you have dropped on potential oils slicks or debris, and how many other crowdsourcers have marked the same spots.

Like some other successful VGI applications, this has appeal on multiple levels. It feels like a humanitarian offering, helping with a massive problem that would have felt largely beyond the ability of the individual. It does feel a little like a game, both in its ultimate goal (find the plane) but also in creating an ongoing sense of progress with the counters for tiles and markers. Even though it lacks a forum or conversation area, it gives participants a way to connect (symbolically) with contributors with similar motivation, plugging them into a virtual global community.

And like other disaster-related VGI applications, it is something that can be done cheaply and quickly. Mobilizing GIS volunteers is more expensive and time consuming, although it clearly accomplishes something very different.

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