For the past few weeks, one of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind has been, “What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?” Something about this mystery has captivated the hearts and minds of people around the world, and inspired the largest search operation in history. Even with 26 countries officially participating in the effort, and French satellites spotting over one hundred pieces of possible plane wreckage in the Indian Ocean, the plane and its passengers are still unaccounted for. But they aren’t the only ones who are looking.
Within days of the disappearance, DigitalGlobe, a commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, directed a significant amount of its earth-imaging satellite resources towards the area in which the plane was suspected to be located. Then, using its geo-tagging website, Tomnod.com, DigitalGlobe opened the search to anyone with an internet connection and some free time. This has made it possible for over 3 million ordinary people to look for possible signs of wreckage across an immense space of open ocean from the comfort of their own homes. In the first week, over 2 million pages of images were being scanned every 10 minutes, and, with nearly 15,000 square miles of ocean uploaded, every pixel had been searched by human eyes at least 30 times. When a user spotted an object of interest, he or she would tag its location on Tomnod. If enough users tagged an area, the information would be relayed to official search coordinators.
While many praise DigitalGlobe and Tomnod for introducing a revolutionary search technique and harnessing the power of ordinary people, the project hasn’t been an entirely smooth process. Tomnod.com experienced frequent lagging issues and occasional server crashes due to the heightened traffic. Many felt that they would have joined the effort if it had been possible. For instance, 14.23% would have participated if the site was accessible on other platforms, such as a mobile app. Some have even criticized the idea of crowd-sourcing in a search and rescue mission as the general public are not organized and trained in what to look for when searching for a crash site. These criticisms have lead to thoughts that governments around the world should be launching their own crowd-sourcing platforms in the near future. 43.49% of our panel shared this opinion, while only 26% felt that crowd-sourcing should continue to be organized by businesses and online communities. In addition to the massive scale of the search, the communication and data collection has been staggering. 52.74% said that the level of technology used in this case is invasive and disturbing. In the end, more of our panel felt that crowd-sourcing was beneficial to the search effort than harmful to it, but 49.19% remain unsure as to whether this revolutionary technique is really a good idea.