Google is providing a useful service by setting up a person finder for people either looking to check on the status of someone or to offer information. Here is the link to the Google Person Finder: Boston Marathon Explosions. The site also mentions two important numbers: the Boston Mayor's Hotline for families of victims: 617-635-4500 and the Boston Police line for witnesses who may have information: 800-494-8477.
I appreciate this service and have used it to check on some friends in my former town. Fortunately, everyone I know was not at the site and is fine. My thoughts are with those not so fortunate.
This reminds me of the people finder set up after Katrina. We could have used Google’s help then and the Katrina locator was much more of an effort. The Katrina PeopleFinder Project was set up by some people at the Berkman Center at Harvard after it was discovered that there was no center clearing house. After Katrina hundreds of Web sites were gathering hundreds, and probably thousands, of entries about missing persons or persons who wanted to let others know they were okay. The problem was: the data on these sites had no particular form or structure. So it was almost impossible for people to search or match things up. Plus there were dozens of sites - making it hard for a person seeking lost loved ones to search them all.
The Berkman Center volunteers set up this central database in a few days to simplify the search. It was a great service. However, they needed massive help to transfer the data into it. There was a call on the Web for volunteers and thousands responded within the first day.
I did some work on this. It seemed a bit complicated at first but there were good instructions and a non-technical person like me could do it. You took data from one of many separate databases and added it into a central one. There appeared to be several benefits in addition to a single source to find people. You were taking databases with different formats and putting them into a common format so searches and sorts can work better. Also, many entries were multiple people and you were creating separate records for each individual. Your work gave a closer personal look at the displaced people. It let you see who was looking for who and the status of this search. Some of the individual stories emerged.
Google, in its usual way have simplified the interface and process. The more personal connection achieved by volunteers was lost but, more importantly, it has made it easier for those who need to find or share information.