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November 18, 2008

Making the world a better place: number 3

GLOBALYesterday’s piece on FrontlineSMS outlined how tricky it can be moving information around developing countries. But what about gathering and mapping reports using different technologies, such as mobile, email and the Internet? Ushahidi was created to do just that, acting as a platform for pulling together information from myriad sources across multiple channels, and then spitting it back out in a range of formats, including standard text (which can be added to and updated), geotagged and mapped data (highlighting hotspots) and even tracking events across a timeline. It’s genuinely interesting and evolutionary stuff, but its application is what’ll really make you sit up and think.

Created to help citizen journalists in Kenya during the post-election
fallout earlier this year Ushahidi, which is Swahili for “testimony”,
was designed to map reports of violence. Since originating in Kenya, it has
evolved rapidly as a platform for other territories and is now in use
in South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The engine behind the service has been rebuilt from the ground up and
is now in alpha deployments, with a long term plan of rolling it out as
an open source platform, free for anyone to download.

The service is a mashup of user-generated content and Google maps which
quickly and easily highlights trouble spots, whether they be the result
of violence, or health scares. For those involved in, or traveling to
particular areas they can quickly and easily see the history of
trouble, reported directly from the ground. It’s also a useful
transparency tool, where those outside the country can get a clear
picture of what’s happening where, and when.

Whilst the mashup web-presentation aspect is cool, clever and still
pretty new, it’s the integration with mobile which piques our interest.
The technology involved isn’t overly complicated, but it’s the
application of it in these environments which make it most relevant.
Ken Banks from is a big believer in the role SMS has to
play in developing countries and this app shows, as well as
FrontlineSMS does, just how it can make a difference.

Spend a little time looking around the existing installations. They’re brilliantly done, and more than a little eye-opening.