Almost everyone on the planet has been asking a question no one is yet able to answer – what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that was on a routine flight from Kuala Lampur to Beijing. With all of our technology that enables us to track a phone call across the planet, we are not able to find a jumbo jet that’s gone missing with over 200 people on board.
Yet, technology has also enabled us to be the citizen journalist who is everywhere. On global news platforms such as CNN, segments such as iReport allow people like you and I to empower the news effort with whatever that’s happening where we are. Or we are able to plug in, via technology, to be a part of a global news effort that takes place simultaneously across many continents.
DigitalGlobe satellite systems
As I write, thanks to the Internet’s unbeatable crowdsourcing multiple platforms, thousands of everyday people are painstakingly reviewing parts of the plane’s search zone for clues. They are volunteers who are using comprehensive satellite images posted by DigitalGlobe, a company that has some of the world’s most advanced commercial satellite capability.
With DigitalGlobe, a viewer can pinpoint almost everything floating in the world’s oceans. The company’s website crashed recently when those searching for MH370 came on board, all at once.
When the alarm for the missing flight sounded throughout the world, so many Good Samaritans took to their computers and the Internet to simply find out what happened or to track the timeline. For most, it was something that could happen to anyone so they were there to give what they could.
From social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the dialogues and the connections were being made on timeline and live feeds. Speculation was rife but so was the concern. What really happened – what were the clues? The problem didn’t just belong to Malaysia or China, which had the biggest number of nationals on board; it now belonged to the world. Everyone cared enough to do whatever they could. And if technology that couldn’t tell us where the flight was, maybe somehow it could help us track the plane’s course, then so be it.
DigitalGlobe was quoted on CNN as saying that looking for a needle-in-the-haystack situation applied here – and in a vast ocean, no less. Although the advanced satellite systems of DigitalGlobe can capture incredibly small details such as debris that may float in the sea, the company admits that it is tough to find people who can painstakingly scout 1,235 square miles of images taken and uploaded on the company websites.
Technology for greater good
Many news sites and networks fully understand and utilize the power of technology in sourcing stories from right where they are happening. Viewers can connect via Twitter on a live feed to comment or give opinions, provide first-hand information or participate in lively debates. News networks understand the unbeatable, on-the-spot news value a smartphone can bring. Almost every citizen armed with a smartphone today is in reality a reporter. Such is the power of technology and its application and relevance to news as it breaks.
In the aftermath of the MH370 disappearance, DigitalGlobe has made its systems available to emergency managers who can gain online access to satellite image of before and after scenarios of a disaster area. The images can be used for emergency response, recovery and damage assessment.
When the Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year, DigitalGlobal was able to bring together a similar global crowdsourcing campaign that enabled volunteers to tag over 60,000 objects of interest from satellite photos. The information was relevant for emergency teams and was also useful for recover efforts.
DigitalGlobal has also provided such services in the aftermath of tornados and floods. The company is able to combine satellite images and then utilize social network data to create a more overall picture. They used that strategy at the recent Sochi Olympics in Russia that enabled them to capture the overall activity, get a feel of the linguistic composition and the mood as the event unfolded in the area.
There’s something that makes you feel good about being able to help. Even if it is from your computer, right at home. With the whole world worried about the flight that went missing, what little we as individuals can do speaks much for the technology we so admire and that which enables to do take part in the search via crowdsourcing platforms. Technology after all, is at its best when it is being used for the greater good of helping people.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)