Google Blogoscoped

Monday, May 19, 2008

Google China’s Extended Earthquake Help

Google China has launched a multitude of help efforts for people looking for information in relation to the disastrous May 12th earthquake centered in Sichuan province. Some days ago, the Google China homepage linked to a special Google Maps layer, as previously mentioned:

Google China also shows a custom search engine, made for the purpose of looking for relatives (qin ren). The Google Custom Search Engines service is part of Google’s Co-op initiative:

The link from the Google homepage has now been changed to this custom search engine:

Google partner Tianya also allows discussion of the incident at their Lai Ba community (to what extent fully open discussion is possible on partly moderated Lai Ba I don’t know):

Accompanying this, Google launched a multitude of advertisements in Google results pointing to these services. There are ads for the maps layer, the custom search engine, and the Tianya community, when entering queries like 四川 (Sichuan), China earthquake and more:

Additional to the advertisements, Google is showing a special alert onebox linking out to the custom search engine, the maps layer, Google News results, and several other search types like blog search or video search: and also put up a donations page using Google’s payment system Checkout; this page also links out to other efforts, like the maps layer and a Google Earth layer. Google on this page also state that they will donate $2 million themselves:

Now, some people thought Google utilized the situation to promote their own products – the owner of a site dedicated to provide Chinese translations of Google Blogoscoped in a translation last week argued that (if I understand it right) Google’s homepage actions felt “cold blooded.” For those who read the translation I wanted to note I did not make or imply any judgment on the situation, and did not say these things; their blog has already added a correction to clarify this, with thanks to their helpful and dedicated team of translators (their team is located all over the world and provides many translations in their spare time). Kai-Fu Lee, President of Google Greater China, contacted us over this as well. He lists the different services Google rolled out in this situation and says many Chinese Google employees have been “working all night” on these.

The Chinese Google employees, Kai-Fu argues, “have been the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever worked with. I am proud to be working among them. But I am very saddened to see the hard work they put in not recognized, and even attacked.” He adds: “At a difficult time like this, I hope we can all turn our anxiety and sadness into real contributions”.

As an example of the kind of work Google China’s employees recently undertook, Kai-Fu tells how the Google custom search engine (CSE) came about:

[Engineering lead Harry Ke] and two other engineers came up with the idea of helping people search for lost relatives or friends. Given there are >20,000 dead, tens of thousands still trapped, and some 200,000 wounded, and many more homeless. Also, cell phone and land lines are mostly not working. Transportation is difficult because the disaster area is on mountains and valleys. So, there are many people frantically looking for lost relatives and friends.

The engineers idea was to use CSE, and add URLs of all the sites, discussion groups, tables, hospital websites, etc.... anywhere there are names of people who might be found, alive, wounded, or dead. The CSE would just report results based on these sites. A big issue is where to find all these websites, so we mobilized about 100 (...) of our employees to look everywhere for content and enter them.

We also allowed users to submit their input to us. And we included discussion groups for everybody, including our competitor’s, as possible places for them to submit input.

Kai-Fu says that Google ran into some problems as some sites were not crawled often enough by Google’s crawlers – when these sites were small, the Google team had volunteers do crawling by hand.

Update: Google China is now showing a black and white logo on their homepage. Yahoo China and Chinese search engine Baidu, among others, show gray-scale images as well. A note from is linked to help contact information, containing support numbers and addresses of charities. The note reads “2008年5月12日14时28分 - 让我们永远铭记这一刻,愿逝者安息,生者坚强”, which as far as we are able to tell translates to “May 12, 2008, 14:28 - Let us always remember this moment, may the deceased rest in peace, and the living be strong.”

[Thanks Xujie, S., Beussery and Jansen.]


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