Distributed search of a different sort

I drove to the Oregon Coast today and the whole time I kept thinking about James Kim and his family. They have been missing for a week now and since there have been no phonecalls or credit card use, it’s not merely getting stuck in some snow (which we had last sunday or monday). It’s likely something worse, which caused me to scan the forests and embankments all the way to the coast.

I read about how they concentrated the search on the 38 highway, but if you check it out on Google Maps, there are 5 or 6 major roads (all about 60 miles long) that link the main cities along the 5 freeway with the coast. I know on my first trip to Oregon, I just randomly picked one and drove along the coast instead of the freeway. They could have certainly done the same.

I was thinking about how helpless it feels to sit at home and worry about this family, and how you could harness the power and goodwill of everyone. I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff come out of MetaFilter, when people collaborate on a real world problem. Then it hit me. There are only 5 or 6 major roads to the coast, and they’re not that long. Why not run a surveillance plane 500′-1000′ feet above each of the roads, going slow enough that it takes maybe 20-30 minutes to follow the roads to the ocean. If the camera view could capture 100-200′ north and south of the road, you could probably film all 5 or 6 major roads in a single clear day like today.

If each recording is say 30 minutes long for a road, split it into 10 equal parts, 3 minutes long, and upload all of them to youtube. Ask viewers to leave comments pointing out when they see anything strange. The Kims were in a silver Saab wagon, so it’s probably something that can be seen from above. In total, there’d be 50 or 60 short clips and in a matter of hours you could have millions of people closely scan then and start pointing out the things worth looking into on the ground. If everyone says there’s a silver glint in the trees on video #6 from the highway 18 group, at 1:55 in, you could send a police unit out to investigate.

Hopefully an approach like the one I described is fairly normal in the future.