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Missing Jet

Crowdsourced Jet Search Overwhelms Satellite Company’s Servers

A satellite imagery provider is trying to give people all over the world the opportunity to help search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet — but the demand is proving more than its servers can handle.

DigitalGlobe directed its satellites to snap pictures of the Gulf of Thailand on Sunday, and has been uploading the data to its "Tomnod" map-scouring Web app. These images were to be pored over by thousands of volunteers online, who would look for oil slicks, wreckage, life boats and so on.

A picture of the Tomnod map as it looks when working. Digital Globe

Search planes and boats are also in the area, of course, but the search area now spans over a hundred thousand square miles, making the it a truly Herculean task to cover. Satellites can look far more efficiently, but all that imagery still has to be scrutinized — and what better resource to tap than an Internet population eager to help?

Unfortunately, they were a bit too eager. The Tomnod website has been up and down — mostly down — for much of Tuesday. While DigitalGlobe hasn't released any traffic figures, it must surely be far more than the thousands of people who signed on to flag objects of interest after Typhoon Haiyan. Even the blog post acknowledging the technical difficulties has had trouble loading.

The sudden surge of traffic upon being posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media has taken down sites before, but it's not too often it ends up hindering volunteer efforts. With luck DigitalGlobe will work out its technical difficulties and get back online in time to help — or at least be ready for the next opportunity.

You can check if Tomnod is working here; click "Random map" to get started, then zoom out and click around or hit the button again to cover more area.