Friday, May 14, 2010

Ushahidi: A crowdsourcing site you probably have not heard of

Us research scientists always go after the latest and greatest shiny cool thing to study on the Web (like us with Wikipedia), but of course, the real world is full of chaos, anger, fear, and all the unpleasant things we all prefer to forget about. What can the Social Web, Collective Intelligence, and Utopia have possibly anything to do with all that?

Ushahidi is a "platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email, or the web, and visualize the data on a map or timeline." The goal is to "create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response." In March, while I was on an around-the-world trip to Beijing and Amsterdam, I read this article in the NYTimes about Ushahidi, and thought about how work like this reaffirms my belief that the Social Web is changing how information is distributed and used in the world, and that it is revolutionary. Ushahidi (which means testimony in Swahili) has now been used in the Kenya's disputed election in 2007 (documenting the violence) as well as Haitian and Chilean earthquakes. "It collected more testimony with greater rapidity than any reporter or election monitor." "The site collected user-generated cellphone reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes and deaths and plotted them on a map, using the locations given by informants."


Let's think for a second about what happened. Someone (Ory Okolloh) who cared about what's happening in Kenya blogged about what was happening, and thought about how a web application could change the transparency of the events to be visible to the world, and then tech geeks read her post and build the web site over a long weekend. Then boom! The world changes.


Why did it work? What's the participation architecture? And what role did technology play in this? Clearly, attention around an event was aggregated, and this came as a result of a confluence of events. The participation architecture relied on the fact that people cared enough about what's happening to build the system, and the people on the ground to have the right technology to report the events to the website, and technology enabled the mapping of these events to a map. Viola! Mass data visualization results.


Amazing because this happened in such a distributed fashion. No government agency got involved, and no centralized authority coordinated the work over a multi-year government grant. Now this has been exported back to the USA and in Washington D.C., the system was used to warn about dangerous roads during the big snowstorm.

The same snow storm that caused the Technology mediated Social Participation workshop to move the date of the 2nd East Coast Workshop. Ironic, isn't it?

Ironic also because this was almost precisely what I had proposed to a Gov't funding agency program manager who visited PARC about 3 years ago (Aug 2007) who was interested in disaster response. She never followed up and we weren't funded on the idea. But here are a few slides from that presentation:

I think Ushahidi is awesome. Ushahidi happened because of people believed and cared about what is happening in the world. That, to me, is the power of the social web.

1 comment:

Epicsystems said...

Dear Sir,

I have the pleasure to brief on our Data Visualization software
"Trend Compass".

TC is a new concept in viewing statistics and trends in an animated
way by displaying in one chart 5 axis (X, Y, Time, Bubble size &
Bubble color) instead of just the traditional X and Y axis. It could
be used in analysis, research, presentation etc. In the banking
sector, we have Deutsche Bank New York as our client.

Link on Chile's Earthquake (27/02/2010):

This a link on weather data :

This is a bank link to compare Deposits, Withdrawals and numbers of
Customers for different branches over time ( all in 1 Chart) :

Misc Examples :

This is a project we did with Princeton University on US unemployment :

A 3 minutes video presentation of above by Professor Alan Krueger
Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton
University and currently Chief Economist at the US Treasury using
Trend Compass :

Latest financial links on the Central Bank of Egypt:

I hope you could evaluate it and give me your comments. So many ideas
are there.

You can download a trial version. It has a feature to export
EXE,PPS,HTML and AVI files. The most impressive is the AVI since you
can record Audio/Video for the charts you create.

All the best.

Epic Systems