December 4, 2021

Quick Action Helps Google Win Friends in Japan

It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country.

Google was also quick in the early hours of the disaster to assemble a Person Finder site that helped people learn of the status of friends and relatives affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Analysts say it is too soon to tell whether Google’s efforts have translated into a larger share of search or online advertising since the quake. But in a country with the world’s second-largest online advertising market, after the United States, and where in the past the company has made serious blunders and raised privacy concerns in trying to unseat the local leader, Yahoo Japan, Google is finally winning new friends.

“I know we’d have nothing to worry about with these people,” said Shigeru Sugawara, the mayor of this northeastern city, which was ravaged by the tsunami.

“I’d like them to record Kesennuma’s streets now,” Mr. Sugawara said. “Then I’d like them to come back, when the city is like new again, and show the world the new Kesennuma.”

Another convert is Sachiko Kobayashi. She lives in Sendai, a city at the heart of the tsunami zone, and was in Kesennuma looking for a friend, a fellow student in the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument. After Ms. Kobayashi posted a query on a separate Web site, a stranger directed her to Person Finder. There, she learned that her friend was alive.

“Thank you!” Ms. Kobayashi posted. “Now I can look forward to practicing together again.”

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Japan’s northeast coast on March 11 was immediately evident to Japanese Google employees, who were jolted in their 26th floor Tokyo office. Engineers suspended their usual projects, and within minutes, a small group started work on what would become the first of various disaster-related services that Google has initiated in Japan.

Person Finder was originally developed after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In Japan, Google went live with its online Person Finder service less than two hours after the quake.

“Everyone started coming by with their laptops and ideas of what we could do,” said Brad Ellis, an American member of the Tokyo team that worked on the initial response.

One engineer raised the idea of making Person Finder compatible with conventional Japanese cellphones. Another suggested visual representations of train suspensions and delays, as well as data on traffic and damage to roads, on Google Maps. All these ideas were put into practice.

On Person Finder, users with information about a missing person can create an entry that other users can search. Conversely, people looking for a missing person can also create an entry in the hope that someone who has information will see it and post an update.

It is difficult to gauge just how many people found information about loved ones on Person Finder. One obvious drawback: without access to the Internet from the hundreds of evacuation centers, victims had no way to input their whereabouts on the Web site.

Much of the information on missing people was instead taking the form of handwritten posters at evacuation centers. So Google began asking users to take photos of the posters and upload them on Google’s Picasa online photo sharing service. The company put its sales team of about 100 to work transcribing names from the photos onto Person Finder.

Soon, almost 1,000 photos of names had been uploaded onto Picasa, and Google employees could not keep up. Then, in a development Google had not expected, anonymous users voluntarily started to transcribe the names on the photos, using Picasa’s interactive feature. In the weeks after the tsunami, more than 10,000 photos were transcribed by some 5,000 anonymous volunteers, adding more than 140,000 entries to Person Finder.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/technology/quick-action-helps-google-win-friends-in-japan.html?partner=rss&emc=rss