Finding Fossett

You might recall the maudlin movie Toys starring Robin Williams and Joan Cusak. It came out back in the 1990s and was showed what would have happened if Willy Wonka instead owned a toy factory and died, leaving it to a psychologically screwed up Charlie.

Okay, long story short, the film’s bad guy, a distant relative of Robin Williams and Army officer, wants to use video games to train kids as virtual soldiers, controlling deadly weapons remotely. Of course, all who stand for good and pure fun must fight against this, and mildly disturbing violence ensues.

Why mention this movie after all these years? Apart from its excellent soundtrack, I mean? Because the film reminds me of what’s going on with missing adventurer Steve Fossett.

The search for Fossett has gone digital, and people around the world are welcome to help search using up-to-date Google Earth satellite imagery.

Think about it, all these people at home in front of their computers, scanning hi-res satellite imagery and playing the world’s biggest and saddest game of Where’s Waldo?

It would seem hard for people at home to understand the seriousness of what they are doing by logging on to Google Earth. Can they really understand that they’re looking for a human being in all that pixel-ated Nevada landscape?

We talk about crowdsourcing all the time; it’s one of those new Web 2.0 buzzwords. But if the millions of eyes that are pouring over the work never see another human face connected to the tragedy, can they really perform as well as searchers on the scene, who understand the situation as they have learned it from other human being, in person?

This goes the same for other crowdsourced endeavors. Boiled down further, it’s the same old amateur/expert debate. Can those who are only “playing” or stopping by the site create as meaningful content as people who care more and have specialized knowledge of the event?

EDIT — According to Wired, as many as 50,000 people are helping in the search.

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