Urgent Crowdsourcing: Ushahidi and Social Media In Times of Crisis
Crowdsourcing, or taking tasks like reporting and journalism usually performed by one designated person and outsourcing the task to the public, has become a major facet of the political media landscape. A great example of this effect was Iran's Twitter Revolution, in which Iranian citizens reported updates about violence following an election and kept the world informed about the view from the street. However, crowdsourcing has limits - language and web accessibility being two major factors that can prevent information from being disseminated efficiently or comprehensively. However, a new open-source project is looking to circumvent these limitations, and is changing the way that the world looks at the potential of social media.
Ushahidi is a platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. The central goal of the platform is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response. "[The Ushahidi Engine is] extraordinarily impactful because 1) it visually translates data into a cognitively efficient communication form and 2) it's interactive in both directions-you can get information and you can post new," explains Dr. Pamela Rutledge at the Media Psychology Blog.
Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. Ushahidi's roots are in the collaboration of citizen journalists during a time of crisis. The website was used to map incidents of violence & peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web & mobile phone. After an initial boom of 45,000 users signing on in Kenya, the developers of Ushahidi realized that there was a dire need for a platform based on it which could be used in other disaster scenarios around the world.
"Our goal is to create a platform that any person or organization can use to set up their own way to collect & visualize information," explains the Ushahidi website. "The core platform will allow for plug-in & extensions so that it can be customized for different locales & needs. The beta version platform is now available as an open source application that others can download for free, implement & use to bring awareness to crisis situations or other events in their own locales... Organizations can also use the tool for internal monitoring or visualization purposes."
Usahidi is open-source and non-profit - if you're moved or inspired by their work, please consider supporting them with a monetary gift or by volunteering to help develop the engine.
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