Foreign Policy Blogs

Ushahidi – Crowdsourcing Intelligence



I spent a night last week working with some friends and colleagues on crisis mapping the disaster in Haiti using a remarkable piece of software called Ushahidi – “testimony” in Swahili.

Crisis mapping is taking in live information from a disaster or conflict zone via the Internet and mapping it to physical locations on the ground. Texts and tweets like “help am trapped in my basement at 15 rue de jardain PAP” or “just rec’d shipment of antibiotics at central hospital” when collated and mapped can save lives.

Filtering the thousands of pieces of data that flow from scores of sources would be impossible for one person, and the hetrogenous nature of the messages make it equally impossible for a machine to do automatically.

Enter crowdsourcing.

Working out of a main situation room at my alma mater, Tufts’ Fletcher School, and with other clusters of people around the world coming and going as time zones and schedules permit, this distributed network is able to monitor message sources, assess their credibility, and pass relevant ones to be mapped.

The aggregated maps are being used by the UN, the US Military, Haitian health officials, and NGOs on the ground.

Wired wrote an interesting piece on Ushahidi.

Oh, the coolest bit about this open-source piece of software? It was built in Kenya by Kenyans – free development + this Internet thing really can empower people everywhere.