Crowdsourcing and the mystery of the missing airline

Truly amazing. We hear a lot about how cool crowdsourcing is, the economies it can produce and the efficiencies it can gain. And if we’re lucky, and/or motivated, we get to participate in some crowdsourcing initiatives and projects. But rarely do we get to see first-hand how it can shape the news.

I’ll talk more about crowdsourcing in other posts (my colleague Dennis and I are giving a talk next week on crowdsourcing, among other things, I’ll probably publish part of that content after the event). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s using the contributions of many, usually non-remunerated (yes, for free), to come up with solutions, ideas, information… Outcomes are being “sourced” from the “crowd”, hence the name.

(This is an image, don’t try to type anything in!)
captcha image

I’m sure that most of you have used Wikipedia, that repository of crowd-source knowledge, more than once. Medical research is being crowd-sourced. The captcha graphics that so irritate us when we’re trying to sign up for something are actually using us to decipher words that Google reader can’t figure out. And I’m sure you’ve heard of crowdfunding, in which we all contribute our little bit to the financing of start-ups. Crowdsourcing can even help you find fruit trees growing in your city (seriously, www.fallenfruit.com, not yet available in my city, Madrid, but still cool – below is a map of the fruit trees in Paris).

crowdsourcing fruit trees

I could go on, but it’s late and I need to get to bed but I can’t without sharing with you how amazing the crowdsourced search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370 is. You sign up on www.tomnod.com, and you’re assigned a section of the ocean to grid search. You, and 2.3 million others. A company called DigitalGlobe has repositioned their satellites to cover the Gulf of Thailand and the Straits of Malacca, and the photos are uploaded onto the web for us to pore over. We’re shown what to look for (plane debris, life rafts, oil slicks), how to tag anything suspicious that we see, and we’re left to it. What gets tagged gets filtered and sent to the relevant authorities.

satellite images of the ocean

And let me tell you, it’s pretty addictive. My daughter Ana and I covered more than 300 tiles this evening. No, we didn’t find anything, but it felt good, we felt part of something. We did our little bit.

Now, we all know how unlikely it is that any one individual will find the missing airplane. But 2.3 million people have an obviously much better chance. And with all of us working together, plus the 13 countries, 57 ships and 48 aircraft, surely we can solve this tragic mystery that has us all so intrigued.  

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For more on crowdfunding, check out my Flipboard:

crowdfunding on flipboard

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