Al Jazeera is doing some of the most innovative journalism in the world. Case in point: Somalia Speaks, the first ever large scale survey of citizen sentiment in that region, and rather than using traditional methods they are collecting data via sms text messages. 

Al Jazeera partnered with several organizations to bring the project to life. Middle Eastern classified advertisement NGO Souktel (whom Fast Company has written about before), mapping non-profit Ushahidi (ditto), enterprise crowdsourcing platform Crowdflower (…and ditto again) all contributed to the project, along with another organization called the African Diaspora Institute. Souktel managed the SMS gateway, Ushahidi provided the project’s mapping platform and assistance, and Crowdflower is assisting with offering a mechanism for crowdsourced analysis and translation of replies.


Inside Nairobi’s Tech iHub

In a four-story building on the fringe of Kenya’s capital, “Ninjas” and “Pirates” are working on finding solutions to problems. The young tech entrepreneurs, laptops plastered in stickers, dress casually and sit around big tables, on couches and sometimes on the floor at the iHub, a tech incubation center that has spawned 150 startups and created more than 1,300 jobs. Photographs by Waldo Swiegers.

by Sophie Mongalvy

Crisis Mapping Japan

Hi, my name is Hal Seki. I am the managing director of I am CEO of Georepublic Japan, and also a member of OpenStreetMap Foundation Japan. As introduced in this blog before, we have started to run the website using the Ushahidi platform to provide information about the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. The website is mainly operated by the OpenStreetMap Foundation Japan, and supported by more than 200 volunteers.


Refugees United in Nairobi, September 2011

Chapter 1:

Having just joined the Refugees United team, I soon found myself southbound for Africa, the continent where the majority of the people we’re trying to help are located. More specifically, I was headed for Nairobi, Kenya, together with Chris for one week. Despite having traveled a lot, this was my first real ‘Africa trip’, and I felt excited to be on my way to see the ‘subject matter’ of Refugees United with my own eyes.

Our luggage stuck in Cairo, we arrived in Nairobi at 5 am in the morning, nonetheless. After a few hours of sleep, we were ready for an exciting and action packed week to start!

We started our week at iHub, an open community-workspace for techies, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area that was established to give these people a facility where they could bring their ideas to life. There’s a silent energy to the space with techies working intensely on their Macs, and you can definitely feel the ideas buzzing when you walk into the iHub space, overlooking Nairobi from the 4th floor of an otherwise rather unspectacular store and office complex. To add to the atmosphere, there’s even a small coffee bar in one corner that serves great cappuccinos – rumor has it they actually serve the best coffee in Nairobi…:)

@iHub, Chris and I met up with Vladimir, Refugees United’s on-ground man in Kenya, as well as with Ushahidi and Praekelt Foundation. Both organizations work in the field of developing open source technologies for great purposes such as democratizing information flows (Ushahidi) and increasing the well-being of people living in poverty through technology (Praekelt).  The potential for synergies with Refugees United is obvious, and we had some great meetings on how we can collaborate in the future to leverage the Refugees United platform through both organizations’ local tech insights.

Shifting the scene from high-tech to low-tech, we stopped by a local factory where the Refugees United scratch cards, used when signing up people via third-part monitors, are printed. Apart from two smiling and very friendly guards, an old-fashioned punch card clock and a slightly toxic odor greeted us at the entrance. After being dressed up in protective factory coats, we entered the factory halls. At a small table, two factory workers were sitting, focused, with thousands of Refugees United scratch cards, checking each and every one of them manually for number code errors. Even with a single mistake within a stack of 100, the entire stack had to go all the way back to be re-printed, we learned. It’s not often that you get to see the far end of your supply chain, so this was a great visit to be reminded of the people behind our services - in this case behind those thousands of scratch cards that will eventually be handed out to refugees across Africa…

Lastly, we had a great meeting with Kenya Red Cross Society that we’re partnering up with in the upcoming months in order to further roll-out the Refugees United search tool across Africa’s refugee population.  

Best, Claudia

Visualizing Online Chatter During Hurricane Irene

External image

Our friends at a firm called GeoSprocket gave a great breakdown yesterday of how they used a combination of technologies to discover trends in online conversations during and after Hurricane Irene. Their challenge, though, is that most Twitter messages don’t carry location data and to get all this content on a map might prove incredibly time consuming for a human.  

Our dataLayer API aims to make this a far simpler process through a technique called location disambiguation (also known as place finding).  This is done by using the other contextual clues that follow online communication, for instance the language someone might used can be combed for words that might appear to be places.  '50 Broadway’ may exist in 100 places in the world, but if it appears next to the word ‘New York’ the algorithm assumes that it’s 50 Broadway, New York, NY which has the Latitude and Longitude coordinate of 40.7061622, -74.0128389.  Since this is done algorithmically, it gives the appearance of messages with no location elements, being mapped somewhat magically.

It’s important to note that neither location disambiguation nor sentiment analysis are perfect sciences but the method can greatly increase the percentage of online chatter that can be mapped in the absence of all other information.  Here’s what GeoSprocket Director Bill Morris had to say about his project…

This is where new developments in “Big Data” analytics come in handy. With some computational heavy lifting from Kate Starbird at the University of Colorado and Chris Danforth at the University of Vermont, Geosprocket was able to bank millions of Twitter posts from the days surrounding the storm. Then the assistance of metaLayer Inc. was instrumental in putting Irene-related tweets on the map. Using a series of digital sifting processes, they were able to mine the archived Twitter data for placenames and keywords. Where a town or street name was included in a post, that post could be placed at a set of geographic coordinates. Were words like “washout” and “devastated” were used, fine-tuned algorithms could assign a scaled value for the sentiment of the post.

Add a bit of cartographic styling and serving with the open-source MapBox toolkit, and we’ve got an interactive mapped timeline of Hurricane Irene, as told by Twitter.

We’re really excited we were able to contribute to GeoSprocket’s project and look forward to what they come up with in the future!  Check out the interactive map of Hurricane Irene tweets made using the dataset here.

Ushahidi now supports Nexmo inbound SMS!

Great news! The developer community of Ushahidi just finalised the support of Inbound SMS via Nexmo long virtual numbers. 

Few months ago, they’ve developed the plugin for sending SMS via Nexmo and now with few clicks you can also receive them.

Here is where to find the plugin.

If your are an NGO or Non Profit, don’t forget to claim your 10% discount. Special thanks to the Ushahidi developers community who was supportive in bridging the gap between its users needs and Nexmo wholesale product.

Week 4: Where we're at

Starting with Nick and Léa’s road trip the other week, the travelling portion of News21 has started. Niharika and Farhod are in Abingdon, VA, Jason A is in Boston and Melissa, Dewi and I took the subway to midtown today. 

We’re keeping track of everyone using Ushahidi’s “roll-your-own-foursquare" check-in tool which our reporters access through the Ushahid iOS and Droid apps. It’s still an experimental feature so it has some peculiarities. We weren’t able to host it ourselves because of problems in the install, for example, so we’re using the free version (which pains us dearly since we can’t change the CSS). Also, color assignment for different users we don’t have too much control over.

But it gives a cool picture of where we are and what we’re up to. Let us know what you think: @cunews21.


Veja que beleza o aplicativo para smartphones do Mapa Colaborativo #protestosbr.

Instale no seu smartphone: clique aqui para iPhone ou clique aqui para Android.

Após instalar, siga os passos abaixo para configurar o mapa colaborativo no seu smartphone:

  1. Abra o app Ushahidi e espere ele sincronizar, a primeira vez deve demorar uns 3 minutos, aguarde.
  2. Clique no botão “+” do canto inferior direito para adicionar um novo mapa.
  3. Coloque um nome qualquer, tipo #protestosbr (ou outro de sua preferência)
  4. Coloque a URL

Siga estas recomendações para manter a alta qualidade das informações do mapa.


SwiftRiver Dataflow 1 (by Ushahidi)
Data Hugging, Feedback Loops and Open Data

At Ushahidi, we have interacted with various organizations around the world, and the key thing we remember from reaching out to some NGOs in Kenya is that we faced lots of resistance when we began in 2008, with organizations not willing to share data which was often in pdfs and not in machine readable format. This was especially problematic as we were crowdsourcing information about the events that happened that year in Kenya. Our partners in other countries have had similar challenges in gathering relevant and useful data that is locked away in cabinets, yet was paid for by taxpayers. The progress in the Gov 2.0 and open data space around the world has greatly encouraged our team and community.

When you’ve had to deal with data hugging disorder of NGOs, open data is a welcome antidote and opportunity. Our role as Ushahidi is to provide software to help collect data, and visualize the near real time information that is relevant for citizens.  The following are some thoughts from our team and what I had hoped to share at OGP in Brazil. (We are participating virtually via webcast, do join in.)

Read more…

Web developer David Kobia was a good 13,000 kilometers from Kenya — in Alabama, actually — when civil unrest broke out in his home country following incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s victory in the December 2007 election. Militias spurred by opposition politicians went on violent rampages attacking members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe with spears and machetes. So Kenya, previously considered an island of stability in crisis-addled East Africa, began 2008 mired in bloodshed.

Then Kobia got a call on his cell phone. A friend of his told him about a Kenyan who had suggested on her blog that somebody post a Google map on the Internet where attacks could be recorded in real time.

Seldom has the expression “born of necessity” been quite so pertinent. Kobia lost no time getting to work, and launched his own portal two days later, marking the start of his successful business Ushahidi (or “Testimony” in Swahili). The site made it possible for witnesses of violence anywhere in Kenya to phone in place and time, which were then mapped.

Five years later Ushahidi has a worldwide reputation for its crisis communication software. The Ushahidi platform, which makes it possible to easily crowd-source information — via SMS, email, Twitter and the Web — is now being used in 30 countries.

After 2010’s Haiti earthquake aid organizations used the system to locate people who’d been buried alive or were starving, and to map collapsed bridges and refugee camps. The information had been gathered from some 25,000 SMS messages and 4.5 million tweets, and the data allowed them to put together a detailed visual of the disaster. A spokesman for the U.S. Marines that were carrying out rescue flights praised the interactive mapping system, saying it had “rescued lives every day.”

A new generation of entrepreneurs

The Missing Information

This past week I was in Lund, Sweden at a conference called “Innovation of the Mind”. I was among a very diverse set of speakers which included Ray Kurzweil, Darryl Hannah, Danielle Lanyard, and Charles Leadbeater among others. Below you’ll find slides and notes from my own presentation.

Globally, there are 1/3 trillion unindexed images between Facebook and MMS alone. These massive troves of image data from social networks like Facebook or Twitter aren’t available to be indexed by search engines.

Although people send more textual data in terms of quantity, visual data (image and video) may be shared less but in regards to costs is more expensive to transmit and store. People consume more information faster using images and video than text. Thus, the opportunity to innovate areas of visual data technologies has potential to not only save money, but improve experiences for people.

As the mobile web and number of networked devices grows, the number of images available to traditional search products is decreasing exponentially. So visual data is rapidly exploding, but unfortunately the methods for consuming it are not. Therein lies the opportunity.

“Investigators calculate that the human retina can transmit data at roughly 10 million bits per second. By comparison, an Ethernet can transmit information between computers at speeds of 10 to 100 million bits per second.” - Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 2006

Let’s take a look at great example of traditional data visualization technologies. For the past year and a half, I’ve worked with a company called Ushahidi. Ushahidi began as a company that made interactive maps that served as real-time situational awareness tools in disaster scenarios. The idea is simple, the public can contribute information about how they are experiencing an event, while first responders gather deep insight in ways that weren’t possible before.

One popular use of Ushahidi is as a data collection and visualization tool. Collecting reports of violence or discontent via SMS and plotting it on an interactive map.

Most contemporary visualization tools work by using stored data, then generating graphical representations of that data. Much of the visual data that’s available on the web is constructed like this. Interactive maps, data visualizations, excel charts, websites and more are each generated from data containers that exist prior to the visualization. One of the things we’re working on at metaLayer is turning this problem on its head - generating the data from images.

When the objects contained within photos or video become sortable, it will be possible to crawl the web in new dimension and this gain deeper insight from information collected from communication.

Networked imagery is the linking of objects in images to relevant targets (wikipedia page, realtime conversations, search results etc.) Once it’s possible to parse and search static media (images), it becomes possible to do the same for moving objects (video). Then it becomes possible to do it in realtime, with real world objects.

Earlier today, Ray Kurzweil mentioned that with solar energy we are capturing information that already exists and converting it into new forms that modern technology can consume. Likewise, with the internet of things we are capturing information that already exists and translating it into information that our devices can consume.

Rather than projecting an additional layer of information onto reality as we do with augmented reality, the internet of things allows us to augment our consumption of actual reality.

This is how we begin connecting non-networked devices to our networked devices like laptops, mobile phones and PCs. We believe this is the future of networked communication - when a glass that exists in the physical realm can share its information with electronic devices which can then relate that information to the user. That might make ordering a beer a little easier the next time I’m here in Sweden.

The future of computing is in connected things. This is where we will find our missing information.


Presentation by Jon Gosier
Innovation in Mind 2011 
Lund University - Lund, Sweden
September 14th, 2011

The Open Data Movement

The Digital Economy Bill; or Digital Britain as it has been termed, is the UK’s government plans to ensure Britain is at the forefront of the digital revolution and leading global economy. As part of the Bill, in June 2009, past Prime Minster Gordon Brown hired Sir Tim Berners-Lee; the inventor of the World Wide Web to oversee and help launch the new data government website called which provides access to large amounts of public sector data. Tim has actively pursued the realisation of a Semantic Web; even from it’s early beginnings in 1989 and more recently believes that we will move away from a ‘web of links’ to a more meaningful ‘web of data’.

The open data movement is creating new interactions between the government and the public by liberating all government data including ordnance survey maps into the public domain; making it available and instantly accessible for free, and with complete transparency.

In the new Coalition Programme for Government, some of the policies the PM David Cameron has committed to follow below, which is also similar to the Conservative pre-election promises but in more detail:

•    “New items of central government spending over £25,000 to be published online from November 2010”.
•    “Crime data to be published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets from January 2011”.
•    “New items of local government spending over £500 to be published on a council-by-council basis from January 2011”.

Where Does My Money Go’ dot org, is an excellent initiative that provides details of British Government spending that before now was only available to a small elite. Its aim is to “Visualise government spending through the ‘lifecycle’: that is from when money enters the system as tax to when it leaves as services, support, etc”

Another example of how this open model of sharing data is effecting people is the US version of the website. Soon after Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) released details of community housing in Zanesville, Ohio, a water plant also published information on houses that were connected to a water supply. In July 2008 this evidence led a judge to awarding $10.9 million to residents of a mostly black neighbourhood after finding that the local government had discriminated against the community by denying access to the public water service.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in December 2007, President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner amid reports of alleged electoral manipulation. A crisis-mapping tool was invented shortly after as a way of documenting the reality of violence after the election. Ushahidi (which means testimony in Swahili) is now used across the world via SMS, email or the web to aggregate information from the public for use in crisis response. Users can post updates time on were violence is breaking out or were supplies are most urgently required after a disaster, creating a real-time map.

Days after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 ‘GeoEye’ released satellite imagery of Port au-Prince to the open source community in a bid to help efforts such as the ‘Haiti implementation’ which uses Ushahidi to create a digital map identifying the worst effected areas and various refugee camps setup to help the victims and the hundreds of relief workers. The Ushahidi project has been used in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile but also to fight crime in El Salvador, forest fires in Italy, to track the spread of swine flu and even help clear up heavy snowfalls in Washington earlier this year.

Juliana Rotich: Lighting Candles + Cursing the Darkness | Rising Stars | OZY

When all it takes is a few clicks to pull satellite imagery of almost any square foot of space on the planet, it can be easy to imagine that the world as we know it is completely and thoroughly mapped, charted out to an extent never dreamed of by the storied cartographers of ages past.

But what if maps of the known world began not from a gaze high above but from many points of view, looking from the bottom up?

This is where Juliana Rotich comes in. Born in Kenya in 1977, Rotich had already made a name for herself as a prolific blogger and Web pioneer when she co-founded the crowdsourced mapping platform Ushahidi in 2008. Their aim was nothing less than converting the flow of information into localized action and change.

It all came to a head during a media blackout in 2008, when Kenya was riven with post-election violence.

The situation on the ground was changing quickly, and people had few resources to turn to for reliable information. Rotich and her collaborators David Kobia and Erik Hersman asked themselves, “What if you could just get unmediated information from the affected areas themselves, in nearly real time?” Stitching together reports from SMS, email and messaging might open up an entirely new view of events as they unfolded. 

Lifted from the Swahili word for testimony or witness, Ushahidi is a nonprofit, open-source software platform that collates information into visual displays, otherwise known as maps. In post-earthquake Haiti, Ushahidi collected and mapped information so survivors could let the world know where they were and what they needed. This was a watershed moment for the company, after which their platform began to be adopted all around the world.

Read more: Juliana Rotich: Lighting Candles + Cursing the Darkness | Rising Stars | OZY 

Sudan Change Now - le crowdmapping au service du printemps soudanais

Développé par Ushahidi, Sudan Change Now utilise le crowdsourcing afin de relater les manifestations ayant lieu actuellement au Soudan.

Cette carte interactive permet ensuite de voir non seulement les manifestations mais également les arrestations, les actes de violence et leur couverture médiatique grâce aux internautes qui peuvent envoyer leurs contributions via smartphone ou en twittant en utilisant le hashtag #sudanrevolts.

Force est de constater que le printemps soudanais ne fait pour l'instant pas les gros titres des journaux…


African software helps map unrest in Liberia during Recent Elections