At this year’s the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference, which always provides a glimpse into the future, one of the projects mentioned was Ushadidi — a “crowd sourcing” mobile phone platform. This platforms allows individuals to report and confirm activities in a specific region. Their collective input — through mobile phone, email, or the Web — provides a real-time depiction of what’s going on. According to co-founder Erik Hersman:
We have the capacity to report eye-witness accounts in real time. There is information overload. We think we can tap into the crowd to get a better understanding of the probability of something being true.
Here’s the Ushadi implementation for tracking atrocities in the Congo:
My take: I have two angles of feedback on this: the technology and the social impact. Let me start with the simple observation, this is cool technology. This effort combines some very interesting things: the collection of diverse data feeds, social technologies for validating information, and rich Internet technology to support visualization, analysis, and drill-down.
Now on to the social benefits. News from around the world is tainted by controlling governments, partisan journalists, and a lack of credible data. So people (and governments) form their opinions based on less-than-reliable anecdotes. In this environment of unreliable information, genocides like Darfur, Rwanda, and the Holocaust are allowed to continue. If people around the world have accurate information about these situations, their collective outrage will hopefully serve as an enormous deterrent in the future.
There are also some other potential benefits to society. We’ve heard a lot about the outbreak of diseases like bird flu and SARS around the world. Real-time information about patients and symptoms would help to alert medical experts about the the spread and severity of those diseases.
The bottom line: I’m rooting for the Ushadidi project to succeed.