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Person Finder: Boston Marathon Explosions (google.org)
246 points by danso on Apr 15, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

The Red Cross already does this. It's called Safe And Well. This is one place where we definitely don't need fragmentation.

If you need to check on someone in Boston, I recommend Safe And Well. Just please don't go to the site unless you actually need to check on someone. The servers don't need the added load (which I guess would be a reason to want to use Google, but they aren't going to be on scene like the Red Cross will be).

The Red Cross link: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/contact-family/register-sa...

> Due to high volume, Safe and Well is experiencing slow page loads at this time. Please continue to check back.

Edit: Also, I hate to bag on anything disaster-relief related, but it's not very useful even when it is working, as it returns results from what looks like the Red Cross's entire database of these records, rather than those scoped to today.

This might be a place where the Red Cross might be able to improve their services by creating an AppEngine or EC2 instance to handle the traffic?

Or let Google do it. Google can scale much faster than the Red Cross can outsource it.

Until Google decides to close it a few years from now in order to focus on what matters.

Google's Person Finder is open source[1] and uses the People Finder Interchange Format[2], which was designed after Katrina specifically so that disaster relief organizations can quickly share this data so that data sources stay in sync and new ones can be quickly revved up (if traffic overwhelms some or, I don't know, a company decides to no longer host one).

Federation of this data is the most important aspect of it, because people use many different sources for news and information, and should not have to search for every possible database of missing persons to find the information they need. For example, after the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, CNN, the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Google Person Finder all shared data[3] so that if any one (or several) went down, all that information was still available from other sources.

In any case, I don't know if you were trying to score free internet points or just being snarky, but it's generally a good idea to do basic research before repeating non sequiturs.

[1] https://code.google.com/p/googlepersonfinder/

[2] http://zesty.ca/pfif/1.4/

[3] http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/100245/google...

There is no need to run a person finder for longer than the duration of the disaster.

We've had wars that run for decades, a timespan in which it's definitely possible for a company to lose interest (or even cease to operate altogether). Thankfully this doesn't seem to be an issue as long as the company running it uses the open data format as pointed out by magicalist.

Are you seriously taking advantage of this tragedy to bash Google for shutting down Reader? Wow, and I thought the Reader drama couldn't get any lower.

Reader isn't the first project Google (or Google.org) lost interest in or shut down. For me the big eye-opener was their "Project 10 to the 100": they got 150,000 entries for where to focus philanthropic funds, waited a few years with no updates and then donated a total of $10 million to 5 organizations.

Kudos for donating money, but they announced a big contest, got tons of input and made this seem like a big focus, and then when that toy wasn't fun to play with anymore they ignored it for a few years until somebody remembered they had money to give away.

Because having ads for making funerals less expensive is exactly what I want to see when I'm searching for my loved ones that disappeared during an earthquake.

I'd rather not-for-profits continue disaster relief, like they have been, and the for-profits actively choosing to donate to them.

The link is to google.org, google's not-for-profit arm.

Is there actually a difference between google.com and google.org? I sincerely figured that Google, wanting to not be confused or have their domain offended (whitehouse.com anyone? You couldn't go to that link back in the 90's).

Edit: reading shrikant's response elsewhere, it appears that there is quite a difference. That is very cool, then :)

There are no ads on that page.

Very true; and I trust that Google would have a heart to not do that. At least, I hope they wouldn't. My point was that if a for-profit company enters this space, they need a way to monetize their efforts, and it's a field ripe for exploitation. It's better if a non-profit does this, since their heart is more likely to be in the right place.

From Wikipedia: "Google.org is the charitable arm of Internet search engine company Google.

The organization has committed over $100 million in investments and grants as of May 2010."

As much as I like to rag on Google for their lip-service to "don't be evil", this isn't such a case. I don't think Google.org has a [direct] profit motive.


It's not necessarily fragmentation, Person Finder is designed to federate information from multiple sources so that information isn't fragmented and sources don't get overwhelmed by the load spike.

I don't know it the Red Cross system supports the relevant data exchange standard, although they seem to have been talking about it in the past with the Person Finder team. A finder that falls over under load isn't very useful.

Link: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/contact-family/register-sa...

Also the city is doing the same through the Mayor's Hotline: 617-635-4500

For the sake of fairness, do a google search on "boston bomb" or similar and see what it shows (spoiler: there's a link to Red Cross too).

Google has now added a link to Red Cross's Safe and Well.

This is helpful, I passed the link to a friend whose cousin ran in the race.

And the whining in this thread is deplorable.

I'm impressed by the speed of software engineering at Google, do they pre-design these systems for such events ?

that was pretty quick indeed.

This has existed before today. Check out the home page: http://google.org/personfinder/global/home.html

Yes, Person Finder is being used since 2010 and since then it has been reused for couple of times. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Person_Finder

"Status: Someone has received information that this person is alive" - I wish they reword it to something less scary. like, "Status: Someone has received information that this person is fine"

the two do not mean the same thing though. the former means the person is not dead, while your version means the person is not harmed. in google's version, the person might have lost a limb or was injured, but still alive. this is not "fine". it's better to be clear about what the information that the message carries in this situation IMO.

Thank you for posting this, danso.

I wonder what the ramifications are for this functionality with regard to people that are in the Witness Protection Program. I suppose that might just be another thing our civil servants will be considering when they're protecting their witnesses.

Batshit insane.

What kind of implications could this tool possibly have for witness protection? It returns data that was explicitly entered in connection with a specific disaster, and you can only search by name. Someone who's in hiding isn't going to give out their original identity, so how exactly do you propose to use this to track them?

Did you even click through to see what this thing really does, or did you actually just assume that "Person Finder" must be some kind of magical privacy-violating anal probe and rush to type out the first paranoid, nonsensical and idiotic thing to run through your head and click post as a knee-jerk reaction?

Wooow. I was just curious. I wasn't intending to throw FUD around or anything of the sort. I didn't think it was privacy violating. I think it's great, in fact. Calm down :)

Yet another Google service soon to be discontinued... When one need it as most probably.

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