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Haiti Relief: Media Lab Request Re Google People-Finding App

January 17, 2010

This was forwarded to us last night by Marc Fest, VP of Communications at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. I also noticed it's been picked up and re-posted by the NYT's David Pogue on his blog. FWIW, makes a lot of sense to us....

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. 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 Haitianquake.com began "scraping" -- mechanically aggregating -- the most popular such sites, like http://koneksyon.com and American Red Cross Family Links. As people within the IT community recognized the danger of too many unconnected sites, and Google became interested in helping, they turned their work over to Google, which is now running an embeddable application at: http://haiticrisis.appspot.com/.

We recognize that many newspapers have put precious resources into developing a people-finder system. 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. Data from the Google site is currently available as "dumps" in the standard PFIF format...and an API is being developed and licensed through Creative Commons. I am not affiliated with Google -- indeed, this is a volunteer initiative by some of their engineers -- but this is one case where their reach and capacity can help the most people.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the reasoning behind this request. Any questions about the widget or its functionality or features are best directed to Google.

Christopher P. Csikszentmihalyi
Director, MIT Center for Future Civic Media [email protected]

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