A different way to help the victims of the Nepal Earthquake

Crowdsourcing is ‘the act of taking a challenge faced by a firm and, instead of asking internal research and development departments to solve the challenge, the firm broadcasts an open call to individuals with relevant expertise outside the firm to become involved in solving the challenge’(Howe, 2006). The recent Nepal earthquake has left ‘thousands in need of shelter in a country little able to cope’ (The Guardian, 2015). According to the Guardian, the region called Gorkha, was closest to the epicenter. Their source claimed that about fifty percent of the houses and schools in this region have collapsed.

The problem for emergency workers now is how to reach the victims of the earthquake.

‘The reason that it is important, is we don’t know what we don’t know’

Kevin Bullock (director of product management at DigitalGlobe), to the Denver Post (Denver Post, 2015).

Due to the earthquake, some roads might be blocked. DigitalGlobe, a company that collects satellite data, has provided access to the satellite images (before and after the earthquake), in order to help emergency management and humanitarian workers (DigitalGlobe, 2015). Furthermore, DigitalGlobe has activated ‘Tomnod’. Tomnod is ‘a crowdsourcing platform that allows web-connected volunteers around the globe to help disaster response teams by mapping the damage from the earthquake’ (DigitalGlobe, 2015).

Tomnod has a few projects where you can contribute, for instance floodings in Chile, a missing catamaran crew and now the Nepal earthquake. Users are instructed to find damaged buildings, major destruction or damaged roads. After a short instruction, you can start exploring map tiles. Some of these are unfortunately cloudy, but other tiles clearly show land. Tomnod keeps track of ‘your campaign’, and gives you direct feedback: it shows you how many tiles you explored, how many tags you made and what your consensus score is (Tomnod.com, 2015). Tomnod collects the tags, and uses a special algorithm to identify interesting locations with maximum agreement of all taggers. According to Tomnod, it is true wisdom of the crowd!

You can use Tomnod without an account. However, Tomnod encourages users to create an account: it helps them improve how they determine overall team accuracy. Furthermore it makes it easier for Tomnod to inform you about new campaigns. On Facebook, Tomnod has over 61.000 likes. The amount of people contributing seems to be a lot higher: according to the Guardian (2014), about 2.3 million ordinary internet users used the Tomnod website to help find the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in 2014. However, the sad truth is that this campaign was not successful, as the plane was never found. The Guardian (2014) also warns that online crowdsourcing campaigns are sometimes unsuccessful, also referring to the thread on Reddit that hunted down the wrong people for the Boston Marathon attacks, resulting in the names of innocent people trending on Twitter.

Whether this Tomnod campaign will be successful, only time will tell. I do not see much harm in participating (as no humans are hunted down, but damage is marked on the maps). When disasters like this happen, many people feel the need to do something, and Tomnod facilitates us in contributing a little bit of time to help. If you want to contribute, please visit http://www.tomnod.com/


– Denver Post (2015), ‘DigitalGlobe launches map crowdsourcing to assist Nepal quake relief’, by Laura Keeney, last accessed 28-04-2015, http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_27999415/digitalglobe-launches-map-crowdsourcing-assist-nepal-quake-relief

– DigitalGlobe (2015), ‘DigitalGlobe opens access to satellite data to support disaster response efforts in Nepal’, last accessed 28-04-2015, http://www.digitalglobeblog.com/2015/04/26/digitalglobe-opens-access-to-satellite-data-to-support-disaster-response-efforts-in-nepal/

– The Guardian (2015), ‘Nepal earthquake: thousands in need of shelter in a country little able to cope’ by Jason Burke, Kathamandu. 26th of April 2015, last accessed 28-04-2015 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/26/nepal-earthquake-thousands-demand-shelter-in-country-little-able-to-cope

– The Guardian (2014), ‘Tomnod, the online search party looking for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370’, by Carmen Fishwick, last accessed 28-04-2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/14/tomnod-online-search-malaysian-airlines-flight-mh370

– Howe, J. (2006) The rise of crowdsourcing. Wired Magazine 14(6). http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds_pr.html

Tomnod.com (2015), last accessed 28-04-2015

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