How effective is Google People Finder?

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A lot has been mentioned about Google’s Person Finder set up for the Christchurch Earthquake. So how does it work?

When you get to the page, not surprisingly found very easy via Google, you’re given two options – “I’m Looking for Someone” and “I Have Information about Someone”. In the first box you enter a full name or part name of a person you’re seeking information about and a list of matches appears with subtexts appears, many with photos.

I typed David and list of people with David as a first of surname, or within names such as Davidson, appeared under which most thankfully said “Someone has received information that this person is alive” or “This person has posted a message”. Then there’s the disturbing “Someone is seeking information about this person”, “Someone has reported this person missing” and worse still the very confronting “Someone has received information that this person is dead”.

Interestingly, and somewhat disturbingly, the few person is dead messages I came across in the system seemed to be fake or someone’s idea of a joke.

The system allows for a person’s name, address, physical characteristics to be listed. There is also a message window for additional information such as where that person was last seen or believed to be. In most cases you can avoid any messages with no information attached. The person who submits the form can enter their email address and phone number which can be accessed publicly via a spam stopper.

Google Person Finder is really just an efficient online version of the walls you see plastered with photos of missing people after disasters around the world. It’s not a perfect resource, and is only as good as the information people provide. And sadly it can be subject to misuse, idiocy or can be exploited by journalists to get in touch with families of missing people and survivors.

But, when you view the site it’s immediately evident what an important role it can play to restoring the piece of minds of people in disaster zones and their and friends and family around the world. It also helps free up telephone communications which are often at a premium in such situations, and takes a the burden of relief agencies such as the Red Cross which can concentrate on helping find and identify those who are still genuinely missing.

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