In the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, web sites pop up to aid people in tracking down family and friends that they have not been able to locate. These sites are a valuable resource for those trying trying to ascertain the well-being of loved-ones when the communications networks we depend on are ravaged. Unfortunately, the number of sites that are created to provide this service can become cumbersome and frustrating for the people they are designed to help. At the time of writing, Yahoo lists 28 survivor registries. It is unlikely that someone could list themselves in all of the available registries. At the same time, those searching the registries for names could easily miss searching in one or more of the registries.
Dan Gillmor points to an effort to solve this problem: PeopleFinder. Rather than creating another stand alone database, they are creating a database to aggregate information from the other sources. This isn’t an easy task since the data resides in many different locations from Craig’s List to the Weather Channel. Volunteers have been working all weekend to manually enter data into the database while technical volunteers have been working to enable the the search engine.
This is a great example of how people can work together to quickly solve a problem. If you are interested, you can volunteer your time as well. All sorts of skills are needed, the place to start is on the volunteer page. If you are technically inclined, you may wish to jump straight into the technical page.