Tomnod Effort To Crowdsource Flight 370 Search Crashes Server, Draws Record Numbers

Tomnod is a digital platform that uses high resolution satellite imagery to let users search for odd landmarks, debris from natural disasters, interesting buildings — that sort of thing. But when the site, operated by Colorado-based satellite imaging company DigtalGlobe, started letting users look for any sign of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the service exploded in popularity.

So many users hit Tomnod hoping to locate any remnant of the mysteriously vanished Boeing 777-200 that the site’s server crashed Tuesday morning. DigitalGlobe just started its crowdsourced search for the missing plane on Monday. The server was back on line with new satellite images of the possible Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crash site by Tuesday evening.

tomnod search

“It was probably late (Monday) night we started seeing some of the ‘tremors.’ And the ‘quake’ hit late (Tuesday) morning when we were getting 100,000 people visiting per hour,” said DigitalGlobe’s Luke Barrington, who co-founded Tomnod when he was a student at University of California at San Diego.

Tomnod had never received more than 10,000 participants in any of its search and “tagging” projects before the Malaysia Airlines search. And it took months to accrue that many people.

But Tomnod was hit with 80,000 contributors and 500,000 unique visitirs on the first day of its Flight 370 project.

Most internet users have seen DigitalGlobe’s work, which is used by such services as Google Earth and Apple maps. Most of the company’s money comes from government and large corporate contracts. But like the best tech companies, not everything is about the bottom line. There is no charge to use the Tomnod platform, which is open to anyone.

“DigitalGlobe is doing all of this work for free, just like the Tomnod users are doing it for free,” said Barrington. “That’s all part of our vision of seeing a better world and is a large reason I work here.”

The company operates five satellites orbiting the Earth and taking regular, new pictures of every inch of the planet’s surface. Images from two of those satellites are used to cover the area area where Malaysia Airline Flight 370 is believed by searchers to have gone down, somewhere between the east coast of Malaysia and the southern point of Vietnam.

Malaysia Plane

Barrington notes that though Tomnod users may not find anything, the information that a particular area contains no debris can be equally important.

“If you can rule out portions of that haystack as not having that needle, then that’s a value as well,” the DigitalGlobe data manager and Tomnod co-founder said.

You can help find the missing plane by taking part in the Tomnod search, starting at this link.

[Images Via Bing]