Will crowdsourcing solve the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines plane that fell off the radar over the weekend? That’s what the folks at DigitalGlobe are hoping. Their company possesses a system that can scour the entire earth for images as tiny as a toaster. Since a jet is much larger than that, utilizing crowdsourcing to look for it could provide important leads to investigators. This is not the first time crowdsourcing has been used to solve a large problem, and so far, millions of people have been volunteering their time to pour over thousands of images captured by DigitalGlobe’s system. Last year, the company was able to discover the remains of two hikers using a similar approach, as well as to identify thousands of objects after the hurricane in the Philippines.
The system works by combining powerful technology with the superior knowledge that can be processed by the human eye. When one of the volunteers sees something of interest, he or she places a pin on the image. Since thousands of people are participating, and many of them, of course, could be unreliable, DigitalGlobe says it has a way to cross-reference pins with each other. When enough people place a pin in the same general area, the company will follow up on the lead and then send the top ten pieces of information out to investigators.
Essentially, it’s as if DigitalGlobe has hired millions of workers to find the Malaysia Airlines plane and hopefully discover that crowdsourcing could be the key to solve the mystery of the missing jet. While the possibilities are exciting, even thrilling, to contemplate, some commentators have pointed out that crowdsourcing does not always work as expected. For example, after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, thousands of amateur sleuths on Reddit and other social media networks ended up pointing fingers and making false accusations against an entirely innocent man who had gone missing. This led to the man’s family suffering needlessly, as they were already devastated by the fact that their loved one had disappeared. That man was later found dead. It is unknown how many people still may associate his name and image with the bombing. Thus, crowdsourcing may have real, unintended negative consequences.
Another potential problem that has recently arisen with the project is that investigators say the plane may have veered wildly off-course. The DigitalGlobe crowdsourcing project is using images that might not reflect the plane’s actual path. Still, the company reports that to date, half a million people have now signed on for the project. The company will release new images as they become available. However, they are facing some technical issues because the overwhelming traffic caused their site to crash earlier today.
DigitalGlobe says they view the interest level as a good thing, and are hoping that crowdsourcing will solve the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines plane. To join in the search for the missing jet, volunteers can visit the website tomnod.com.
By: Rebecca Savastio