In the wake of the Haitian earthquake Google has released an online application called Person Finder, which aims to provide a central database for those looking for or having information about anyone in Haiti. The application was developed in consultation with the U.S. State Department in under 36 hours, and comes at a time when more traditional forms of communication, like telephones, were severely disrupted.
Similar people finder applications were created in the aftermath of the WTC attacks and hurricane Katrina. While those applications could not be quickly redeployed, a standard data format called People Finder Interchange Format (PFIF) had been developed, which served as the basis for Person Finder. However, Google was not the only company collating information, prompting a message from Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Director of the M.I.T. Center for Future Civic Media:
In the response to the earthquake in Haiti, many organizations have created sites where people could find one another, or least information about their loved ones. This excellent idea has been undermined by its success: within 24 hours, it became clear that there were too many places where people were putting information; each site became a silo.
People within the IT community recognized the danger of too many unconnected sites, and Google became interested in helping. Google is now running an embeddable application at: http://haiticrisis.appspot.com/
Poynter Online reports that Person Finder now includes data from major news companies like CNN and The New York Times. The Person Finder application can also be embedded into external web sites with only a few lines of HTML, and can be found on pages from The Miami Herald, U.S Department of State and Google itself.