Dozens of efforts are taking place – online and offline – to make it possible for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina to contact one another. A particularly interesting one, in my opinion, is Air America Radio’s Public Voicemail, built by my neighbors at VoodooVox.
(Disclosure: I’m an investor in VoodooVox and a former board member.)
The idea’s very simple. As a hurricane survivor, you call the voicemail system – 1-866-217-6255 – and you’re prompted for your home phone number. You then record a message telling callers where you are, how you can be reached, etc. People who are trying to find you can call the system, enter your usual home phone number, and receive your voicemail message. It’s a nice way
VoodooVox is in the business of building extremely complicated voicemail systems, primarily for radio stations. While this system is much simpler than many of the tools they usually build, it’s a reminder of the fact that interactive voice response systems are often an easier interface for people to use than web systems, especially for people not experienced with using computers. The system also solves a tough database problem – how do you eliminate duplicate entries in a database? – using phone numbers as index keys. (There are a lot of John Browns in Louisiana, but very few people associated with each phone number.)
David Geilhufe and others are organizing a project to create a single, central database of information about missing and found people, reconciling dozens of databases and message boards that have sprung up. The data will ultimately live at the New Orleans Network – there’s a conversation going on right now on the Omidyar Network for people who’d like to help enter data. Right now, folks are trying to figure out how to assign chunks of the message boards that already exist to people who’d like to enter data – you can join the conversation on Omidyar if you’ve got an account. Or you can create an account and join in.