Ushahidi – Join The Crowd

OpenStreetMap – Project Haiti from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

In Swahili, “ushahidi” means “testimony.” I would like to share with you an emerging technology, Ushahidi, an open source platform that can be used by anyone anywhere to share information that can improve disaster response and perhaps someday influence public policy. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would have appreciated this.

The 31 second video provides a dramatic example. Before the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, reliable road maps were scarce, particularly if you wanted to know which roads were open. Thanks to Ushahidi, this all changed after the earthquake. This crowd sourcing technology assembled more than 80,000 text messages with location data to create “Open Street Map” within two weeks of the disaster. You will see when and where each report of an open street was made days after the earthquake. A newer version of Ushahidi can interpret voice messages as well, for those users who cannot read. Cell phones and mobile devices are surprisingly accessible in regions such as Haiti, with sharing of a single device common practice.

Critical information such as this could mean the difference between life and death of a victim of a natural disaster, allowing much more rapid transport to medical centers. Just think of the possibilities – such technologies could make access to food and water easier, as well as allow anonymous reporting of political unrest and criminal activity, to name a few.

Because this is open source, users can continuously improve and refine how information is uploaded, analyzed and interpreted.

According to the developers:

A visualisation of the response to the earthquake by the OpenStreetMap community. Within 12 hours the white flashes indicate edits to the map (generally by tracing satellite/aerial photography).

Over the following days a large number of additions to the map are made with many roads (green primary, red secondary) added. Also many other features were added such as the blue glowing refugee camps that emerge.

A lot of these edits were made possible by a number of satellite and aerial imagery passes in the days after the quake, that were release to the public for tracing and analysis.

Read more on our blog – itoworld.blogspot.com/​2010/​02/​ito-world-at-ted-2010-project-haiti.html

Comments

  1. #1 davespod
    January 18, 2011

    Hi. Thanks for posting the video about OpenStreetMap in Haiti. I think you are slightly confusing two separate crowdsourcing projects, Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap.

    Ushahidi is a platform that allows you to collect and visualise information over a base map, but does not generate the base map itself. Ushahidi was used to collect reports of incidents of all kinds, from reports of water shortages to violence, following the earthquake in Haiti. These were plotted on a map, which used OpenStreetMap as a base map, because, as you stated, there was a lack of good maps before the earthquake.

    OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a global project collecting the geographical data (on roads, landuse, buildings, etc.) needed to build a map (or run in a sat nav system, or many other uses). However, the text messages from Ushahidi do not play a role in building the map. Volunteers mostly collect data either by surveying the ground directly and collecting data with a GPS device or tracing aerial photos. Following the earthquake in Haiti, several providers of aerial imagery authorised the OSM community to trace their aerial imagery of Haiti. In this manner the volunteers built the map. In some areas, street names were added using old US military maps in the public domain or (with permission) UN maps. In addition, a few volunteers also did some ground-based mapping. The base map generated from the data was then used by Ushahidi. It was also made available in a Garmin format for aid workers to download onto their GPS personal navigation devices, converted to paper maps for aid workers by the organisation MapAction, loaded into Geographical Information Systems, etc.

    More information can be found on Ushahidi here:
    http://www.ushahidi.com/

    and their Haiti project:
    http://haiti.ushahidi.com/

    on OpenStreetMap here:
    http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/

    and the OSM Haiti project:
    http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/WikiProject_Haiti

    and the OSM Humanitarian Team:

    http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Humanitarian_OSM_Team

  2. #2 Jeff
    January 18, 2011

    Thank you for the clarification. I learned about this from Emily Jacobi (Digital Democracy) and found it to be inspiring. I hope that more projects such as these are coming soon.