Category Archives: Mashup

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.

India Election Mashups Web 2.0 Style

India Election Mashups

India Election Mashups

India engages in the important ritual of democracy – an Indian general election — every five years. This ritual will be held from April 16 through May 13, 2009 when all 543 seats of the lower house of the Indian Parliament known as the Lok Sabha are up for grabs.

714 million voters, 828,804 polling stations and boatloads of money spent to engage in this process.

The Indian subsidiaries of two of the largest global web companies – Google India and Yahoo India have launched two mashups in Web 2.0 style. Both sites do a good job of educating the English speaking voters of India on the latest in election news, analysis, voting myths, election abbreviations and symbols, and polling schedules. The sites have some interactive features such as maps, polls to understand the citizens’ priorities on issues such as infrastructure, power, water, jobs, economy and national security.  The sites personalize data based on the voter’s location and permit searching voter rolls to find your polling booth.

These mashups could be even more helpful if they were provided in local languages. The non-English speaking majority of voters in India would benefit by access to modern and unbiased election information services. Hopefully next time an Indian startup will see the opportunity to help inform and build a nation!

Check out the Yahoo! mashup here and the Google mashup here.

Pune’s PLUG Mash a resounding success

PLUG MASHUP CAMPParticipating at PLUG’s mashup camp in October was an exciting opportunity for me to be among friends and Pluggies again.The PLUG Mash organized by the Pune Linux User’s Group and its friends and supporters was a resounding success. The 2-day camp had a combination of formal talks as well as a hack-a-thon for FOSS hackers to gather together and code. Major sponsors including Thoughtworks and Zmanda did an outstanding job of participating in the sessions. I found the talks by various open source contributors – Chris Stevenson (of Thoughtworks), Ramki (of Red Hat), Friji (of Radio Schizoid), Satish (of Red Hat), Valsa (of Intel), KK George (of Zmanda), Niyam (creative guru), and Karunakar (of – led to a valuable discussion of how developers, users and FOSS advocates are doing their part in making open source contributions possible from India. I presented about the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and its global initiatives and enjoyed the discussion thereafter about how OSI could become more pertinent in India’s ecosystem.

Many thanks to my friends for putting in a lot of hard work, for being such fantastic hosts and making this 2-day camp in Pune memorable and successful for me. The great conversations, wonderful food, and the “coffee” added just the right touch. And reminded me of what makes Pune’s community so enjoyable to be part of.