November 5, 2012

Post Hurricane Sandy Thoughts: We Love Google!

Over the past few years, Google went from Silicon Valley's Sweetheart to Wall Street's darling to what some considers as an evil empire that once promised the world "don't be evil".  Somewhere after dominating the world's search traffic, buying out every competition or good ideas under the star, becoming a huge mobile OS player and purchased Motorola, the world, it seems, have come to become bitter with Google's massive influence.

However, for those living in the NY/NJ area impacted by Superstorm Sandy, Google's influence and it's product offering has empowered people in a big way.  The influence, I want to say, has never been this strong by any other technology company before.

Prior to the storm starting, my colleagues and I were assessing the risk of flood for our apartments and garage via Google MAP's elevation API at sites like this one, the site allows you to draw a line and beneath the map there are elevation graph to show you the high and low points of that line.  After the hurricane, Google.org created a custom map layered with useful information like traffic conditions, food, supplies and gas station status. Small towns like Hoboken, NJ (one of the most impacted city) setup a couple of crowdsourced recovery maps allowing it's residents to communicate with each other regarding to the various charging stations, volunteer centers or power outage restoration.  The information found there was astoundingly fast and accurate.  Communities were really leveraging Google Maps cloud service to help each other.

Finally, after my power was restored, because my internet was still down, I was able to utilize my unlocked Samsung Nexus Galaxy which allows me to tether Hotspot / WiFi to my computers and other devices to allow me to carry on our day to day life; this is not a big deal other than the fact that Google's flagship phones come by default unlocked allowing me to tethering without having to pay the carriers again for the same internet usage.  Also, during the storm, my SMS plan exceeded it's 200 message limit, I switched over to Google Voice SMS to help minimize the cost for incremental SMS usage.

To be totally fair, other technology companies including Facebook, Twitter and Bing were also utilize in helping with the recovery effort to disseminate critical information to the public or loved ones.  It's just that Google's influence seems to cover more ground.  In ways, Google is still a darling to me.

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