Two major Web search companies, Lycos.com and Yahoo.com, have assembled aggregated, fully searchable Web pages that allow people to simultaneously search numerous disaster sites for information on family members, friends and victims who may have been injured or displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Using the specially assembled pages -- Lycos' Search for Missing Persons and Yahoo's Katrina People Finder -- site visitors can type in a person's name and quickly find out if they have been added to survivors' lists, missing persons' databases or to one of dozens of other disaster and emergency information Web sites.
"It's a double-edged sword," said Brian Kalinowski, chief content officer at Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos. "In one aspect, I'm thrilled there are so many people out there putting up sites for people to get information." On the other hand, many people searching for information on loved ones had no idea where to begin looking, he said. Many Web users are not familiar with finding sites for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other groups, he said.
"Our job with our search site ... is to give them one place they can go," Kalinowski said. "What we can do is at least simplify their efforts."
The engineering team at Lycos worked for a day and a half to create the special portal, which brings together information aggregated from some 35 disaster recovery Web sites, he said. By using Net-based "spiders" that go out on the Web, grab text and catalog the content of the disaster sites, Lycos can make all of the sites searchable from one search box. Some 25 sites have been fully "spidered" so far, and others, including the massive American Red Cross site, are still being cataloged and will be added when they are completed.
So far, the Lycos page searches sites such as KatrinaSurvivor.net, CNN's Hurricane Katrina Safe List, online forums from the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper and message boards created by The Weather Channel. Also included is a separate list of news sites and disaster assistance groups that can be visited for more information on the recovery efforts.
By using one portal to aggregate all the content from the diverse Web sites, users conducting online searches don't have to know about the databases or other software where the information is stored by the Web sites themselves. "As long as we can access the information on the Web, it doesn't matter what kind of database they use on the back end," Kalinowski said.
Lycos plans to add more Web sites to its search page as they are needed, he said.
At Mountain View, Calif.-based Yahoo.com, the Hurricane Katrina Message Boards site aggregates information from dozens of Web sites, including KatrinaSafe.com, CoastGuard Connect, the Salvation Army Emergency Radio Network and Operation Get-In-Touch.
Spokeswoman Kelly Delaney said the special page was built by Yahoo co-founder David Filo and a team of engineers and has been in operation since Monday.