Category Archives: Innovation

Ushahidi tracks the Gulf Oil Spill: Open Source Crowdsourcing at Work

Ushahidi - Born in Africa

Ushahidi - Born in Africa

On April 20th, 2010, a methane gas explosion ripped apart the operational oil rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico. This accident has become a catastrophe – the largest oil spill in US history. It has damaged the entire ecosystem of life in the Gulf. The ocean waters and shorelines of Gulf states all the way to Florida and the Mississippi river delta continue to be ravaged by the gushing oil. The spill is affecting millions of people, marine life and wildlife. Major parties involved are trying to find effective solutions to control the spill and cap the leak. More needs to be done.

Tracking the damage

In the last 64 days, many technologies have been deployed to track the oil spill damage and its cleanup. For example, the Oil Spill Crisis Map project by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Tulane University students has successfully been used to track oil spill reports and incidents.

Oil Spill Crisis Map is built on Ushahidi, an open source platform for crowdsourcing crisis information. Ushahidi allows the project team to visualize data on maps and gather data via multiple channels – Web, Email, Text Messaging (SMS), Multimedia Messaging (MMS), Twitter and Cell Phones (including iPhone and Android). Anyone can use these channels to report geo-tagged incidents about oil damaged terrain (beaches, islands, shorelines) and wildlife. Reports can even be submitted anonymously by people.

The power of such a distributed design is evident. 923 reports have been filed to date with 81.26% verification. This information is open, free and accessible (available in multiple open formats such as RSS, KML, JSON, CSV) to anyone who needs it. Anyone can also sign up and receive email or text alerts about spill damage reports in their local area. The tool has empowered local communities to actively participate in tracking, reporting and preventing further damage.

A Potent Combination

Together, crowdsourcing and open source are a potent combination especially during possible emergencies. In this case, the Ushahidi based Oil Crisis Map has helped share data across communities and has openly presented the magnitude of the oil spill. Also, it has enabled people on the ground to actively participate in solving this crisis using current and accurate information.

Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony”) itself emerged from another emergency – monitoring a disputed Kenyan election in 2007 with a mash-up of eyewitness reports onto a Google map. Today Ushahidi has developers from Kenya (where it started), Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Netherlands and the US. Ushahidi was also used in Project Vote Report India for India’s 2009 general elections to track election irregularities.

Crisis management software has entered a new era with open source and open data tools like Ushahidi. Open source maximizes opportunities for reuse. Open data maximizes opportunities to share and analyze results. Broadcasting results through the Internet makes outreach possible to affected communities within hours of any emergency. Tools like Ushahidi lower barriers to automated tracking and reporting on crises. Ushahidi is a game changer.

Brazil and India: The Next Generation of Open Source

Brazil and India: Next Generation of Open Source

Brazil and India: Next Generation of Open Source

Those of us who follow the growth of open source in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) know that both Brazil and India are leveraging open source at a rapid pace towards economic development.


India is a heavy user of open source. Sectors leveraging open source include software development outsourcing, business process outsourcing, government services, technical education as well as industries such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, oil and gas, defense and space. According to Wikipedia, India produces 2.5 million graduates every year from which only a small percentage, about 700,000 people are employed by India’s BPO industry. The BPO industry which has flourished on cheap, skilled labor has started to leverage open source software based automation to gain further cost advantages.


Brazil has also been a hotbed of open source activity in recent years. Government agencies, private industry, universities have been teaching and implementing open source solutions to create local centers of knowledge and gain expertise around open source in the country. Seeing India’s success in IT outsourcing, Brazil has also declared an interest in using open source to gain leadership in the market of software development outsourcing.

According to recent articles in Network World and Computer Weekly, Brazil has a few humps to overcome to fully leverage the power of open source for software outsourcing. These challenges include a predominantly non-English speaking IT industry and higher hourly wages. But the Brazilians are optimistic that deep knowledge of open source can overcome such factors and help them compete globally.

Brazil’s open source experts in IT, government and education are very active in international open source forums as well as engaging international experts in Brazil. For example, the Linux Foundation will be holding its first-ever Brazil summit later this year. Such exchange of ideas, skills and expertise can help stimulate the local knowledge economy and give Brazil an edge especially in open source expertise.

Brazil has other advantages that it could combine with the knowledge of open source to develop its software development outsourcing markets with special focus on the US. These advantages include geographical proximity to the US, in-country advanced technology research and excellent infrastructure such as roads, airports, power and telecommunications.

Collaboration is good

In the true spirit of open source, both India and Brazil can learn a lot from each other. India’s IT and outsourcing industries could certainly learn a thing or two from Brazil’s commitment to open source to foster innovation and develop its internal and export markets. Making deeper commitments to adopting open source can only help both countries grow their economies while sharing their experiences and best practices. Knowledge economies can only thrive on continuing the pursuit of better education, deeper expertise, more innovation and long term collaboration.

Apple and Open Source: Raising the Bar

Apple and Open Source: Raising the Bar

Apple and Open Source: Raising the Bar

Two excellent articles published recently on Apple’s quest to improve user experience in its mobile products such as the iPhone and what Open Source can learn from it.

1. Making Open-Source Software Free and Fabulous, by Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation, BusinessWeek

This article aptly reiterates the pressing need to focus on further improving the Linux and Open Source application user experience.

“We’re moving to a tech world with Apple on one side and virtually everyone else on the other. Linux needs to more effectively compete with Steve Jobs and the magic of Apple. It’s important that open-source products add more value for users than simply being free. Open-source software also needs to be fabulous….

…Providing a good user experience isn’t paramount under the white lights of the data center. In consumer electronics, it’s a different story. Mobile Linux vendors must increase their technical investments by working on key open-source projects to make every component used in Linux devices benefit the user experience. That includes making devices boot up faster, connect better, and display graphics more smoothly. In the server market, IBM made the investments to improve Linux for information technology workers a decade ago. The mobile industry uniting behind Linux should do the same.”

2. Why Open Source developers should thank Apple (and why Apple should thank open source) by Dj Walker-Morgan, The H Open

This article does a good job of highlighting areas where Apple has helped Open Source by raising the bar for usability.

“Apple has also set a high competitive bar for open source, and proprietary developers to exceed. For too long, the competition for open source was defined by Microsoft’s offerings…

…although Apple has made design, policy and commercial decisions that people in the free and open source software community vigorously object to, they have provided a number of things too: a real competitive bar to replace the complacent Microsoft competition and a disruption to the mobile phone market which has indirectly led to Linux based phones moving from oddities to center stage. It is said that a rising tide raises all ships, and Apple has, in the last ten years created competition that is making all the players in the business rise to the challenge of competing. Open source and free software are rising to that competitive challenge and if that means users of free software and open source software get as good an experience using it as Apple’s well polished offerings, isn’t that something to be thankful for?”

iPhone 4: A game changer. Again.

WWDC 2010

WWDC 2010

Apple’s annual developer conference WWDC started today in San Francisco with the “official” unveiling of the latest iPhone 4 and iOS 4 by Steve Jobs.

In keeping with Apple’s mantra of innovation and usability, iPhone 4, is loaded with smartphone technology firsts. Much awaited features include a front-facing camera together with a rear-facing 5 megapixel camera, 5x digital zoom, HD movie capability, LED flash, 3-axis gyro, compass, high-res retina display, noise cancellation and a larger battery for longer battery life. All these features have added fuel to the ongoing competition between leading smart phone vendors like Apple and Google. But it’s clear that Apple has raised the bar for innovation and usability on the mobile platform yet again.

Apps on the new iPhone which I am excited about include:

1. iBooks: This app which was initially released with the iPad and will now allow reading PDFs and the same copy of any book across multiple Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iTouch).

2. iMovie: For amateur movie makers, we’ll now be able to create, edit and share videos right from the device.

3. FaceTime: Video chat is finally here with FaceTime. Today this app works on wi-fi only. Of course, you need another friend with a iPhone 4 to vchat with. I hope that Mr. Jobs is serious about his proposal to make FaceTime truly an open international standard.

Despite the game changing potential of the new iPhone, the demands of smart apps on this device may be hard to satisfy with the new limited data plans that come with it. Hopefully, as usage of data-intensive apps (e.g VoIP, Maps, Movies, Video) on smart phones goes up, US network carriers will be encouraged to provide more generous plans.

MIT’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2010

Emerging Technologies 2010

Emerging Technologies 2010

Every year MIT’s Technology Review selects and publishes a list of the 10 most promising emerging technologies. This year’s list picks some really futuristic technology ideas in internet and web applications, mobile computing, green technologies, biomedicine, and solar energy which are worth learning more about.

The list includes:

It lists technology areas such as cloud programming, real-time search, social TV and mobile 3-D where I think open source software has a big role to play. Especially in the arena of cloud programming, it is interesting to note that UC Berkeley researcher Joseph Hellerstein has been working on a project named BOOM (Berkeley Orders of Magnitude). This project has developed a software language named BLOOM which he proposes can make cloud programming easier for building complex cloud applications by tracking data and state. As MIT Technology Review points out,

“Hellerstein’s big idea is to modify database programming languages so that they can be used to quickly build any sort of application in the cloud–social networks, communication tools, games, and more. Such languages have been refined over the years to hide the complexities of shuffling information in and out of large databases. If one could be made cloud-friendly, programmers could just think about the results they want, rather than micromanaging data.”

The UC Berkeley team has also used BLOOM to build around open source cloud computing platform Hadoop.

One Small Blip on the Stock Index, One Giant Step for Apple

Apple overtakes Microsoft

Apple overtakes Microsoft (Image credit:

History was made today as Apple overtook Microsoft ($226.3 billion) in market value and became the world’s most valued technology company at $227.1 billion dollars.

iPhones, iPads and iPods have definitely revitalized Apple’s innovative streak. It will be interesting to see how the company maintains its success in the consumer device space as competition from Google, Microsoft, HP and other vendors heats up. And open source is in the middle of it all, as it becomes a favorite tool-chest to surpass the market leader. Android, Chrome, HTML5, CSS3… the list grows as tools of disruption are readied. It’s going to be exciting times ahead especially at WWDC in San Francisco coming up on June 7-11.

At IPDC3 with Dom Sagolla

“Building Teams, Polishing Ideas, Creating Truly Compelling Demos”

iPhoneDevCamp 3

iPhoneDevCamp 3

Dom Sagolla has been a key mover of the iPhoneDevCamp movement since day one. It’s been impressive to have Dom’s energy, enthusiasm and ideas take the iPhoneDevCamp to next level. Throughout the DevCamp, Dom was hard at work, helping folks as well as making progress on his upcoming book. Here are Dom’s responses to some questions I had for him at the camp this year.

  1. The iPhoneDevCamp model offers a winning formula for community collaboration events. It is likely that other technology communities may be able to use this model. What would be your advice to them?

    It’s already begun with things like AndroidDevCamp, PreDevCamp, and now “WinMoDevCamp“.

    My advice is always this: Make the event all about the participants. When you focus on building teams, polishing ideas, and creating truly compelling demonstrations, you are following the model of BarCamp.

  2. A 10 year old developer won applause as the youngest participant at the DevCamp this year. How do you see the camp inspiring kids in school and in general?

    10-year-old Annika has my favorite story this year. Having been dragged along to last year’s event, she made the best of it by reviewing the apps of other participants. This year, she’s created @KidGameReviews and started developing her own games! Annika shows us just how easy it is to get started with iPhone Development. She’s still learning but the growth I’ve witnessed over the past year, in her and in the community, is inspiring.

    iPhone is a lens, through which the problems of computer science may be examined. I hope kids of all ages get a chance to play with Apple’s superb example code just to see what’s possible in a few days’ time.

    Every year we sponsor a few student participants at iPhoneDevCamp, and we will certainly continue that tradition. Perhaps we’ll add to this a new category of “Youngest iPhone Developer”.

  3. Some apps such as Avatar Wall, winner in Coolest iPhone App category, used Twitter to demonstrate their ideas. What do you think is the impact of social networking services such as Twitter on the type of apps being developed?

    Twitter is becoming a communication utility, like other service providers online and in our homes. Seeing the Twitter API in use at iPhoneDevCamp is another sign that social networking is now a fixture in our lives.

    iPhone was launched just when Twitter began to gain prominence two years ago. There has been a complimentary arc of growth for both Apple and Twitter since then, and Twitter was profiled as an “Apple Business“.

    I see the intersection of iPhone and Twitter as a kind of cultural nexus. The best of breed Twitter apps are on the iPhone / Mac platform, and the most virulent iPhone apps integrate well with Twitter and other social media. The two platforms combined create a vortex of attention and zeal that is driving innovation on both ends.

  4. How does a community event like the iPhoneDevCamp that has grown in popularity every year fit into the iPhone developers ecosystem? How does it complement official (e.g. by Apple) and unofficial (e.g. barcamps) activities?

    I like to think of iPhoneDevCamp as a “sister event” to WWDC. Folks go to learn new technologies and talk with Apple engineers at WWDC. Inevitably they are inspired and want to test their knowledge, so we have created iPhoneDevCamp where they can form teams and build things.

    The relationship is complimentary: We do our best to schedule around Apple’s events, and stay in contact with them at an informal level.

    In the BarCamp tradition, we want to be a model for other Open Source communities to band together, find sponsorship, and field events of their own. I think the Satellites program launched for last year’s iPhoneDevCamp, with double the participation this year, pretty clearly shows our commitment to the BarCamp way.

  5. Your writing project “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” sounds exciting. Is there going to be a chapter about using Twitter at the iPhoneDevCamp? You mentioned you’d be gathering some source material for the book at the DevCamp. Did you notice anything interesting about how Twitter was being used by the participants (and organizers)? Tell us more.

    140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form

    140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form (flickr:Sagolla)

    I do talk about iPhoneDevCamp in “140 Characters”, yes! Our use of #ipdc3 as a tag this year, as well as a few choice quotes from our performer @BT are profiled:

    iPhoneDevCamp itself formed out of the Twitter community. @Ravenme wrote to @ChrisMessina who posted an inquiry for space, which I picked up because I’d just started following Chris in mid-2007. I replied in public to Chris, he followed me back and the rest is a history of 100% year-on-year growth.

    Twitter accelerates small societies.

    We did an experiment this year, where we made our Satellite broadcast available via iPhone and iPod touch for the first time. Tweeting that link resulted in about 1000 viewers around the world. That’s how I measure reach: How many people are tuned into your message RIGHT NOW?

    I measure impact with action: in the last days of Registration for the camp, we sold out three (3) times. Each time capacity was lifted, we tweeted the Registration link and we were sold out again within hours.

    The Twitter community is voracious for learning and real-life connection. Tapping into that has been critical to the success of iPhoneDevCamp and the iPhone Developer community abroad.

  6. What can we expect at DevCamp 4? Any surprises coming up?

    Next year: iPhone Jam Band! :-D

    Seriously we haven’t talked about plans for next Summer yet. Right now is the time to follow up with all the Satellite communities and see how we can enable more events elsewhere during the year.

    We would be thrilled to work with Yahoo! and all of our sponsors again next year, which we know will be yet again bigger.

Dom Sagolla

Dom Sagolla (flickr:Sagolla)

Dom Sagolla helped create Twitter with Jack Dorsey in 2006 then co-founded iPhoneDevCamp with Raven Zachary in 2007 (just a week after the launch of the original iPhone). After helping Raven and the team create the Obama ’08 iPhone App in 2008, Dom started his own company DollarApp in San Francisco, resulting in two Staff Favorites: Big Words and Math Cards. @Dom’s book “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” is the subject of his next iPhone invention, shipping this Fall.

iPhoneDevCamp 3 ends with a roar: 54 apps showcased!

iPhoneDevCamp 3

iPhoneDevCamp 3

What a weekend at iPhoneDevCamp 3! Community and friends coming together to collaborate, hack code, enjoy great food and soak in the picture perfect weather at Yahoo’s beautiful campus – what else could an open source geek ask for? Here is the group photo of everyone who participated this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Dev Camp this year- there were some excellent talks on Saturday. There was plenty of time for hacking and the results of the hackathon were paraded out on Sunday afternoon. Open source and web applications hacked together over the weekend were showcased. Other apps included alpha versions of future App Store products. More than 60 apps were entered for the hackathon and 54 of these were were showcased in the demo session. Chris Allen, guru and mentor for the hackathon along with other judges watched each demo with great attention and afterwards announced the winners in each app category. The winners are listed here.

My congratulations again to Raven Zachary, Christopher Allen and Dom Sagolla – the key movers for making this Dev Camp happen. And thanks to Yahoo! for providing a fantastic venue for everyone to gather and build some innovative web and native iPhone apps. Looking forward to iPhoneDevCamp 4!

iPhoneDevCamp 3 gets off to a running start

iPhoneDevCamp 3

iPhoneDevCamp 3

The third iPhoneDevCamp kicked off Friday evening at Yahoo!’s scenic campus with an enthusiastic audience and an excellent talk by Chi Hua-Chien’s session on iFund, Kleiner Perkins’ venture fund for iPhone applications. Today started with a great  presentation by Andrew Stone on ‘How the NeXT Computer Became the iPhone’. There are at least 400 people now, forming groups to develop their apps. Some are  listening to BT, the current speaker who is a musician and DJ who is presenting his iPhone app Sonifi that allows users to remix music. Sonifi also has in-built stutter gestures using the iPhone accelerometer. You can stretch these stutters to extend sections of music which makes it sound metallic. Interesting stuff! After this session, a pizza lunch and four parallel sessions of talks on web and native development tools and techniques are coming up. Time to get back to work on our app for the hackathon!

iPhoneDevCamp 3 in Silicon Valley this weekend

iPhoneDevCamp 2009

iPhoneDevCamp 2009

The third iPhoneDevCamp begins this weekend July 31 to August 2 at Yahoo!’s campus in Sunnyvale. The organizers of iPhoneDevCamp – Raven Zachary, Dom Sagolla, and Chris Allen are hard at work on finalizing the next edition of a star studded event. Developers and companies will come together to showcase and develop applications for iPhone and iPod touch using both the native SDK and web technologies while having great fun at the same time :-)

What’s on the agenda? Lots of cool stuff. Here’s the link. The event starts on Friday evening with a mixer and concert. Saturday and Sunday are hackathon days when you roll-up-your-sleeves, form your team, brainstorm and write your code. As in previous years, the deadline for project submissions is Sunday 2pm. Each team shows off their project app from 2-5 pm. And then come the awards, applause and appreciation from the DevCamp community, which makes it worth every minute you spent at the camp. So, if you’re in the Bay Area this weekend, drop by the Yahoo! campus and join the party. Remember the event is not free this year – registration is $50 and you can register at the iPhoneDevCamp website.

See you at the DevCamp!