Friday, September 5, 2008

Ushahidi - a way to collect and visualize crisis reports

Out of an African nightmare emerges a potentially valuable innovation that could one day save lives.

During the Kenya violence -- which I blogged in January -- reports about the extent of the violence emerged from people equipped with mobile phones. The founders of a website called Ushahidi are beta-testing a platform that will allow groups to aggregate such crisis reports in the future, displaying the information visually. Ushahidi means ''testimony'' in Swahili. I found this description on the Ushahidi website:
The core engine is built on the premise that gathering crisis information from the general public provides new insights into events happening in near real-time. It is being developed by a group of volunteer developers and designers, hailing primarily from Africa. So far there are representatives from Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Ghana, Netherlands and the US.

The private alpha of the redesigned Ushahidi Engine is set to begin testing in late September of 2008.

Ushahidi plans to make the Ushahidi mapping tool available globally for free. . .

The intended benefits of Ushahidi are twofold. First, to provide the "general public" with "new insights into events happening in near real-time." Second, "to help organizations marshal efforts to assist areas that are not well covered in the mainstream media."

There were some reports at the time of the Kenya crisis that mobile phones were implicated in the spread of ethnic violence (reminiscent of the role played by radio in the Rwanda genocide).* Can safeguards ensure today's promising new communications technologies do not get into the wrong hands?
Hat-tip Kenya Pundit.
* Even running has been blamed for Kenya's ethnic violence -- a reminder that there's no activity that cannot be misused.

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