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.

The Benefits of Hindsight

Like the original iPod thread at macrumors, I love reading last year’s announcement of YouTube getting funded. Post GooTube deal, Sequoia’s $11.5 million invested netted them $495 million in return. With that in mind, these quotes from the post and linked blogs are great:

“The Web 2.0 funding frenzy is in full effect.”

“People on the street in Montana aren’t talking about [YouTube]… It will be some years out before general people become users.”

“…emerging land of absurdity where a live prototype that can be replicated in 90 days, that has no business model or revenue is considered a business.”

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

Holy crap, the rumors were true: Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

I’m really happy about this and think it’s a good thing. Like I said last month, YouTube offers a fundamental shift in how video is shared online and provided a free hosting outlet for millions of people. YouTube proved that broadband and video can actually work and it doesn’t have to cost every producer an arm and a leg. The rest is all details, though I understand profits and lawsuits over IP are pretty big details.

I would put this purchase up there with the Blogger deal. Google saw this app that provided a huge shift in how people interact online and snapped it up. Same with Writely, same with Picasa (though I’m sure they wanted Flickr back when it was independent). Google used to just be a search company but now they’re looking more like a very smart media company buying up all the best-of-breed services.

I do wonder how on earth they’ll fold YouTube into Google. If they just merged the YT content into Google Video, all the personality and social aspects of YouTube would be lost, but if it stays independent, then they have two brands offering much of the same product competing for engineering and legal resources.

Congrats to the YouTube team and kudos to Google for snatching it up and keeping bandwidth costs at zero for young filmmakers.