Internet Search Party

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Many of you have been tracking the story of Steve Fossett, the infamous adventurer and aviator who was the first man to circumvent the globe in a hot air balloon, and who is currently missing after taking off in a small plane in Nevada on September 3. His disappearance is startling and mysterious, given his reputation and resume of survival and perseverance, and also because there is no trace of him or his plane.

But now, Internet users can join in the search for Steve Fossett. National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” broadcast a story today explaining how Google Earth and Amazon are enabling and encouraging a desktop search party.

In response to a plea from Fossett’s friend Richard Branson, Google Earth worked with satellite imagery companies GeoEye and Digital Globe to obtain current images of the area in Nevada where Fossett is thought to have disappeared. Google Earth shared these satellite images with Amazon.com. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk tool divides the images into sections, which are then assigned to willing searchers. The amateur searchers, from their computers, can scan the images and indicate either “Yes, this image contains foreign objects that should be looked at more closely” or “No, this image contains nothing of interest.”

According to NPR, “the international community of online searchers has marked several thousand small images as "interesting" and worth closer attention. Google forwarded those images to search teams in Nevada. So far, though, none of the tips has led to Fossett.”

This amazing technology, coupled with an online, participatory culture, may lead to Fossett’s discovery. For updates on the search for Fossett, visit his website www.stevefossett.com.

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