Malaysian airliner mystery captures attention around the world
Published Monday, March 17, 2014 7:02PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, March 17, 2014 7:21PM ADT
The mystery of a Malaysian airliner that vanished with 239 people on board has captured the attention of the world.
More than two dozen countries are now involved in the traditional search-and-rescue mission, covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
However, the traditional effort has been aided by millions of individuals who have joined the search for clues online.
The average person can help in the search by scanning satellite photos provided by the website tomnod.com.
Social media expert Giles Crouch is one of the millions of people looking for a breakthrough in the ten-day-old mystery.
"People want to solve this, solve the mystery and feel like we had a small part or even a large part in solving a mystery. That's why this one is so big,” says Crouch.
Crouch believes there are several reasons as to why so many people have joined in the search. One is that it’s simple; a person in Halifax could have the ability to search the Indian Ocean by phone.
"People love to do something where they feel like they are helping, but there isn't a learning curve and there's no learning curve to this. That's also a downside because people don't know what an oil slick looks like or debris looks like,” says Crouch.
Associate professor Anatoliy Gruzd’s computer at Dalhousie University’s social media lab is much more advanced than a phone or a laptop, but the search principals are the same.
“Essentially, we as human beings are very good at looking for certain details, and computers are very good at looking for patterns,” says Gruzd. “I'm not really confident how reliable the outcome of the project will be in this particular case, but certainly it doesn't mean that crowdsourcing is bad. It's been successful in many other cases."
On tomnod.com, people can search individual plots of ocean, each one about the size of a city block. If an anomaly is spotted, it can be tagged oil slick, wreckage, raft, or other.
"Once a number of people have tagged that image, it means it ranked up. It's a democratic process. That's when Tomnod goes in. They do deeper analysis and send it to emergency services," says Crouch.
"Even if each individual only spends a small amount of time, overall the man hours will be huge," says Gruzd.
The challenge is immense but more people are searching a wider swath of territory for the Malaysian airliner than in any other case of crowdsourcing’s brief history.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter