Got a little time to spare? If you can handle a simple online experience, you could join a millions-strong armchair search party – regular people with Internet connections who are helping to solve the riddle of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, which vanished more than a week ago on its way to Beijing.
The most recent news reports suggest that what might be pieces of the plane’s wing have been spotted via satellite imagery floating in the Indian Ocean. But the search is still on. Even if this debris does turn out to be from the plane, additional sightings could help searchers figure out where the plane went down.
That’s where you come in.
The satellite imaging company Digital Globe has been volunteer searchers through its Tomnod crowdsourcing tool. Tomnod lets you access Digital Globe’s satellite feed and, square by square, scan the surface of the Indian Ocean for what might be signs of wreckage, an oil slick or a life raft.
How Does It Work?
The process is simple and the site designed to be easy for anyone to use. After you sign in with an email, you’re shown a section of the ocean as seen from Digital Globe’s satellite; if you see something suspicious, you click on one of the icons to tag it: debris, raft, etc. Use the arrows to move up and down; once you’ve scanned a square, you just click in the space to the right to load a new one. A counter keeps track of your progress, square by square.
The company says that volunteer sightings have already helped it narrow down the search field. You can view other peoples’ sightings on a map and click in to view a detail.
It’s not exciting work, but digital crowdsourcing initiatives like this one have yielded results – for example, after after a small plane went down in the Idaho wilderness in January, in the wake of the Hayan supertyphoon and after the Oklahoma Tornado in 2013. Once you’re signed up for Tomnod, you’ll receive alerts whenever volunteers are needed for a new search.
The power of people all over the world, of all ages, coming together to help solve some very human puzzles: It’s one of the beautiful things about today’s digital culture.