UPDATE: Lots and lots of folks were good enough to volunteer – enough that it brought down the database for a few hours. We’re back in business, as of 10:30 pm – please come to the wiki and join us to do some data entry.
Like most people, I’ve been watching news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and feeling relatively helpless, wanting to do more than just donate to the Red Cross and other relief efforts. Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from David Geilhufe, who was helping to organize an interesting and important tech project: building a single database to resolve the dozens of “people missing” and “people safe” databases that have appeared on the web in the past week.
If you’re searching for a missing friend or loved one – like a friend who’s visiting this weekend and is looking for her grandfather – you currently need to check dozens of online databases. If this project succeeds, there will be a single database that resolves all the outstanding information.
I’ve been involved with a very small – but very labor intensive – part of this process – assigning sections of bulletin boards to volunteers to enter into the database. This has involved writing some quick scripts that group message board posts into sets of 25, generate web pages with links to them, and then create wiki pages so that folks can sign up for 25 entries to enter into the database.
We need two types of help on this project right now. If you’ve got a free hour to do data entry, we would love your help. Go to the Volunteer page of the wiki, follow instructions, choose and claim the chunk you’d like responsibility for. And please give me feedback on whether the process makes sense to you or whether the instructions are too confusing.
If you’ve got some wiki, Perl or PHP skillz and want to put in a bit more time, please let me know – I’m working through a list of unstructured data sources and writing sloppy hacks to generate chunks to assign to volunteers. I’d love help working through this, but this is an assignment that requires some ability with scripting and a bit of creativity. If you’re willing to give me a hand, I’d be very grateful – email me at ethanz AT gmail DOT com.