Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Google Releases Hurricane Sandy Disaster Response Resources

The Calm Before Sandy

According to a story in the New York Times and a Google blog post, Google rushed the release of Hurricane Sandy maps which aggregate publicly available data to create some powerful  emergency resources including alerts and  mapping tools which track the storm and point to relief services.  While some of these resources may not provide the highest value in the post-storm environment they certainly demonstrate  highest and best use of the web and social media in crisis response and  mitigation.

Maps include:

•Location tracking, including the hurricane’s current and forecasted paths, courtesy of the NOAA-National Hurricane Center

•Public alerts, including evacuation notices, storm warnings, and more, via and

•Radar and cloud imagery from and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

•Evacuation information and routes

•Shelters and recovery centers will appear as they become operational

•Storm footage and storm-related YouTube videos, curated by Storyful

NYC Subway Post Sandy cc

Public alerts, to show warnings about natural disasters and emergencies based on information from government agencies like and the National Weather Service. The alerts will  show up in response to searches on and Google Maps, and appear unprompted on the cellphones of people with the latest version of Android, through Google Now.

“This is part of our continuing mission to bring emergency information to people when and where it is relevant,” Nigel Snoad, a product manager for Google Crisis Response, wrote in a company blog post.

A map of the storm area. Using Google Maps, the company has created Markers show where power is out; the location of evacuation shelters and routes; traffic conditions; and where surges, floods and high winds are expected. There are also public alerts. People can choose different views, including the addition of cloud imagery or location-based Webcams and YouTube videos to the map.

A New York City map shows shelters, Webcams, evacuation routes and other information from NYC Open Data, the city’s Web site for sharing data with software developers.

The public alerts and maps are products of Google Crisis Response, part of, the company’s nonprofit arm, whose focus is to use Google products and engineers to help solve problems. It was started in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina and has published online resources for disasters like hurricanes and oil spills since then, including the person finder feature that was used after the Japan earthquake.

For the Sandy maps, Google has drawn information from the Red Cross, the National Hurricane Center,, Storyful and the United States Naval Research Laboratory, among others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Million Dollar Reference Desk: Are Librarians Selling Themselves Short? Ask Pearl!

Reinventing Reference? Try The Pearl Model

Today I came across a story in Wired  "A  Place for Burning Questions" describing what may be a new model for the future of research support: . It uses the tag line " Wisdom when you want it." At this point they offer the services of only a  handful of specialties and yet they have built a multi- million dollar business. Earlier this year the company  raised a $25 million Series A round of funding, which included investors Charles Schwab (the man himself) and Glynn Capital. bills itself as  "a revolutionary new way to help solve life’s everyday issues." The service strikes me as being a cross between a reference desk and Angie's List. Pearl connects people with questions with "professionals" who can  provide answers. The professionals currently offering their services are doctors, lawyers, mechanics, computer technician, veterinarians, home repair and something called a "life professional." They have not yet added information professionals,but can that be far off?

Unlike other social network sites that offer crowdsourced  answers, claims it is the only website offering advice from screened, qualified professionals. The service promotes itself as being fast, anonymous and available 24X7. The prices are cheap. According to the Wired story a basic  question costs $15 and a more complex question can cost $80. The average time to get an answer is  10 minutes. Pearl also offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with your answer.A review of their terms of service, indicates that they are providing "Information" not "advice".

According to the Wired  story, gets 250,000 questions per month and has earned $100 million in annual revenue, and has had a 123 % revenue growth year over year since 2008.

Sounds Like a Reference Interview to Me

All you have to do is ask your question, set an approximate deadline, and decide if you need a lengthy answer or a concise one and a specialist sets to work analysing your request and writing a response. As Google has given everyone an easy way to perform a quick fact check. the research questions sent to the research  staff in law firms have grown more sophisticated. In light of the complexity of the questions handled by the average law firm reference librarian, their answers should command a premium for a lawyer under a tight deadline.

Is it Time to Outsource Ourselves... To Ourselves?

At the 2011 PLL Summit, Keynote speaker Esther Dyson responding to  the convulsions in the legal marketplace, suggested that librarians might be able to build a more secure professional future as outsourced professionals selling their own professional services back to law firms. Looking at the Pearl model if 3 million questions can generate $100 million in revenue a year - this might be a model worth adapting. Given the ongoing uncertainties of the legal industry... the time may be now.