Tech companies pitch in on earthquake response
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 8:48 AM
SEATTLE -- Google Inc., Twitter, Microsoft Corp. and other U.S. technology companies are finding ways large and small to help out in the wake of last week's earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami.
Google put together an online "person finder" database in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese for people who are either seeking information about a missing person or have information to provide about someone affected by the disaster.
The search company also launched a service that lets people staying in shelters share the list of names of disaster victims posted at their locations. People can snap photos of the lists using their cell phone cameras and e-mail them. The photos automatically are uploaded to an online photo album. Google said it is entering the names on those lists into the person finder database by hand, so that others will know they are alive.
Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., has also made its mobile site for the crisis response easier to read for people in Japan who don't have smart phones. It also posted a map in Japanese that gives information about road conditions, with data from Honda.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., said it was reaching out to customers and partners affected by the earthquake and offering them free technical support and temporary software licenses. The software maker also said it has a Web portal that governments, non-governmental organizations and other agencies can use to communicate with each other and with the public. For people interested in news about the disaster, it set up a page on its Bing search engine.
The company has also pledged $250,000 in cash, according to its disaster response website.
Twitter, a startup that lets people share short messages called tweets, is trying to help organize the flood of information flowing through its system by suggesting a set of "hashtags" - a pound sign followed by a word or code. Tweets with the code "Jishin" at the end, for example, are for general earthquake information. People can search Twitter based on such tags.
Twitter also said its mobile website in Japanese now has a special earthquake section, and it has posted links to mobile phone operators' sites that are trying to help people check on the safety of friends and family in Japan.
EBay Inc., the online auctions and e-commerce platform, is hosting auctions that give part or all of the proceeds to aid agencies helping out in Japan.
PayPal, eBay's online payments division, is crediting transactional fees for a month to qualified U.S. and Canada non-profit agencies that are raising money to aid in the disaster response in Japan. PayPal usually charges a small fee to the recipient of a payment.
PayPal is also hosting a site with links to nonprofits that are taking donations via PayPal.
Web retailer Amazon.com Inc. and Web portal pioneer Yahoo Inc. have both added links to their home page encouraging people to donate to support the relief efforts.