Culture: Website: Social Network
It's a Small World: Missing People Search   (+13, -1)  [vote for, against]
Distributed instead of central search ... ant style instead of hawk style

I recently found out about the prevasiveness of sex slave traficking. I felt helpless because the cases that happened to flash across the screen were all in different countries which I never visited and in which I have no connections. I also see a lot of posters posted in food stores, but there are just too many faces - and I get discouraged almost immediately.

This idea deals with part of this problem. Finding the victims - and could work just as well (or probably even better) for missing people in general.

I'm sure you've heard about the "small world phenomenon" that sais that everyone in the world can be reached through a short chain of social acquaintances (6 degrees as it turns out) This could be easily incorporated into a social solution for finding missing people.

Instead of having a website that houses 1000's of cases centrally and is daunting for anyone trying to find a match based on people they know, the process could be distributed borrowing from the small world phenomenon and distributed / emergent computing

You go to a web site. You sign up with the following information:
Cities where you live, do business, travel, or have family
your email address
number of pictures of missing people you are willing to look at every week

The next bit is where this gets interesting. Every week you receive N pictures of missing people to keep an eye out for. Instead of simply remembering the faces and leaving it at that , your next responsiblity would be to forward these images off to people that you know (and that are part of the network). Of course you would make this decision based on the leads associated with the picture. Who you forward it to would not be a science ... it would be based on intuition - I think in the case of recognizing patterns intuition is a great tool. Sometimes people don't know what they know.

The payoffs would be two fold.
Karma payoff: If you were involved in the chain leading to the location of a certain individual you would get positive karma visible across the community.

Financial payoff: For those cases that involve financial reward your reward would be calculated as a fraction of the total based on where in the chain you were. Last link gets more, first link gets less, website owner gets even less

How would this social network spread? Through invitations. If you had a lead and wanted to send it to a non-member friend, you could simply invite them with a clear and noble purpose. There would be none of the guilt like with sending those annoying piramid forwards because your friend could accept the invitation but set their setting of random new leads to 0 per week and receive only targeted leads that people really thought he/she should know about.
-- ixnaum, Nov 18 2005

Small World Phenomenon http://en.wikipedia...ll_world_phenomenon
Everyone in the world can be reached through a short chain of social acquaintances. [ixnaum, Nov 18 2005]

Not such a small world after all
[ConsulFlaminicus, Nov 19 2005]

100th Monkey Myth http://www.findarti...is_vNON4/ai_4436765
Debunked too [BunsenHoneydew, Nov 19 2005]

The six degrees phenomenon applies to people you 'know' maybe you just invented the "6 degrees through e-mail" theory. Much easier, and probably down to 5 degrees. Interesting idea.

Damn e-mail harvesting companies would find a way to muck it up, though.
-- sleeka, Nov 18 2005

With all this data available it wouldn't be hard to utilize some kind of a statistical algorithm to predict probabilities of leads being accurate. For example, the users could rate the pictures from 1 - Maybe I saw this person as he was running but I'm not sure it could have been someone else... to 10 - Ya, this is Bob, he's my co-worker. This data could then be plotted on google maps to generate more leads. The system would be in constant feedback from the thousands of tips flowing in until it narrowed down the location of the missing person.
-- ixnaum, Nov 18 2005

//Damn e-mail harvesting companies would find a way to muck it up, though.//

Not likely. The email information would be kept on a secure server. Kind of like ebay .. on ebay everyone is constant communication with each other through email but no one can harvest ... it's kept hidden. Only ebay knows all the emails ...
-- ixnaum, Nov 18 2005

I love the altruistic intentions of this idea. Also, I happen to find this type of social networking model fascinating. However I question how effective it could really be in the trafficking scenario you propose...

Though intriguing, the "six-degree" concept tends to fall apart in practical application. Research in this area shows that these networks function due to a statistically small number of "big fish" individuals who possess an unusually high number of contacts.

While these "connection hubs" can travel long geographical distances (i.e. I am on a networking site that has my 2nd and 3rd tier business contacts all over the world due to a few key individuals.) they still tend to stay within certain social strata and economic background.

People caught up in this type of trafficking are often from rural or urban poor situations where the likelihood that they have n-tier access to one or more of these "hyper-connected" people is very low. The diverse, broad social networks required to "reverse-locate" these individuals, may well have translated into the very options they were lacking that initially lead them into the bad situation.

These concerns aside, it might do better in a more localized way. But then, I tend to think when a child or person goes missing locally, law enforcement and the people searching naturally reach out to the limits of their networks anyway. Then you are left with what we already have, existing databases like the NCMEC.

Anyway, perpetual optimist bun for you. [+]
-- Zuzu, Nov 18 2005

I wonder if a website displaying sex slaves might be misinterpreted as an advertisement?
-- bungston, Nov 18 2005

[ixnaum] I agree that harvesting by proper means could be tough. But I was talking about situations in which a company lies. Like the phony 'eBay' e-mails that ask for info, credit card, and such. I know that HBers don't fall for them, but unfortunately, several people who are often the most kind and altruistic (read: older, and occasionally less computer wise) might not notice they are playing into the hands of an e-mail harvester.

Also, I suggest we test it. Somebody name someone right now (a real person that you know, of course, and who will not be offended to have their name listed here), and I will see if I can get them an e-mail following the 6 degrees rule. I think it would be fair to give me their name and city they live in. Rules are: I cannot use the HB, and I cannot just look it has to be through e-mail only, and I can only use 'it's extremely important' style phrases as a reward.
-- sleeka, Nov 18 2005

To make the challenge more realistic maybe it should look like this:

Link a picture of yourself
Give simulated (but true) leads about location. For example: Seen in Czech Republic in May 2005, Seen in Canada August 2005.
Give simulated (but true) leads about occupation (imagine this as the reason why you went missing). For example: Likes to solve puzzles. Not a big sports fan.

It will be hard to simulate though ... primarily because people will say -- why should I waste my time and my friend's time finding this guy? That's where the altruism helps the case ... but how can we achieve that for simulation purposes unless we lie?
One problem that I can see already is that finding someone by how they look is harder than finding them by their name. People today don't have that many face to face encounters any more ... everything is sold online and people rarely even look at each other on the street. But maybe that's just me ... maybe there are old fashioned social people who make a lot of contacts during their day. Unfortunately I don't see any other way of answering whether this will really work other than doing some kind of a smart research project or testing it out live on real missing people cases ... any ideas?
-- ixnaum, Nov 19 2005

I'll give a free bun to anyone's recent invention if the owner of it can accurately calculate exactly how many times Kevin Bacon would be contacted in this process.
-- jellydoughnut, Nov 19 2005

Well, one way is to just pick a person listed on NCMEC and email all of your contacts.

Another way to research is to call the NCMEC and ask to speak with someone about the idea. They no doubt have a wealth of knowledge on social networks and could give you feedback on how helpful they think this type of software "angel network" would be. (Non-profits are notoriously open and accessible with people who want to help their cause.)

It's a stretch, but one might also be able to partner with a company that conducts computer simulations of population dynamics or other complex adaptive systems. Modifying the algorithms to model relevant test cases might uncover some realistic projections.
-- Zuzu, Nov 19 2005

do sex slaves have a social life?
-- po, Nov 19 2005

If you receive N pictures and have to forward them to other network members, and other network members have to do the same then p.d.q. you'll have an inbox full of multiple copies of every picture the network has sent to everyone, approximately N!(N m).

The internet is clogged with enough spam already, thank you very much.

Also, the 'six degrees' thing has been tested and debunked.
-- ConsulFlaminicus, Nov 19 2005

Aw [ConsulFlamincus], you spoilsport. Next you'll be telling us that the Hundredth Monkey thing is bogus too.

Oh wait...
-- BunsenHoneydew, Nov 19 2005

What? How long does it take for a monkey to wash a stinkin' potato?
The article reads like one of those 'no idea' HB posts.

[po] I assume they hang out with the other sex slaves.
-- Zuzu, Nov 19 2005

//you'll have an inbox full of multiple copies of every picture the network has sent to everyone//

That's why I mentioned the ability to limit the number of incoming pictures... very important. Also very important is underlying emergent based algorithm that finds out which leads should have higher priority over simple random leads.
-- ixnaum, Nov 20 2005

Maybe we should just ask Kevin Bacon....
-- Minimal, Nov 21 2005

The problem is that most of the people who would see those slaves would not volunteer the information, as they are most likely guilty of crimes as well.
-- sophocles, Nov 21 2005

The problem with limiting the number of receivable pictures is two-fold.
a) It is impossible to block emails without there being a constant to all of them (e.g. they all would have to have a certain word in the subject line). This example would lead to problems of whenever somebody feels like renaming the subject to "Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw:Oh pleas help this poor lost persn"
b) As [Zuzu] pointed out. The key to spreading the word would be the people who seem to know everyone. Unless they'd be willing to accept an inordinately large number of pictures.
-- hidden truths, Nov 21 2005

random, halfbakery