Ushahidi is a crowdsourcing mapping platform created by Kenyan lawyer and blogger Ory Okolloh in the aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan general elections. The idea is that with enough input from users, the platform can use the aggregated information to monitor situations such as riots, or natural disasters and help to provide a useful overview of the situation, via a map. Ollokoh received $70,000 from the Knight News Challenge in 2009 to develop Ushahidi further.
Nieman Lab's Megan Garber spoke to Ushahidi's director of crisis mapping and strategic partnerships, Patrick Meier, about how media outlets can use the platform. Meier gave Al Jazeera's work in Gaza as an example: its journalists were texting and tweeting direct to an Ushahidi map and the news outlet directed its audience to the map as their "first stop." The map was then opened up to the public in Gaza to add their own information. Meier found this combination of professional and amateur coverage very interesting, particularly as comparing reports made it possible to start to detect who were the more credible members of the crowd.
Meier suggested to Garber that a good way to use Ushahidi would be for a news outlet such as CNN to use a smartphone app with geolocation, and then alert the users of the app if there is a newsworthy event near them. "I think that could be a way for a media group to harness the crowd to be the reporters and to provide that kind of information in real time," he said. For longer-term investigative projects, carried out by ProPublica, for example, Ushahidi could encourage the public to contribute evidence, Meier believes.
An article in the New York Times in March also explored Ushahidi's potential to break news stories. It pointed out that the Washington Post had partnered with Ushahidi to warn of roads covered by snow when a blizzard struck the East coast of the United States early this year. This kind of content could definitely be integrated in the coverage of a crisis, as an interactive graph or map.
After the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, an emergency Ushahidi texting number was created that allowed people to text in about trapped victims, and this information was placed on a "crisis map." This same program was utilized when a powerful earthquake struck Chile in late February. More recently, the technology has been used to create an oil spill crisis map.
This type of technology is arguably particularly useful in areas where media coverage is limited, either for political or practical reasons. As user generated content becomes more and more prevalent with the increasing ubiquity of mobile phones and Internet users, maybe mapping breaking news Ushahidi-style will become more common.
Source: Nieman Lab