Off Topic: Ushadidi May Improve The World

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.

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I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 thoughts on “Off Topic: Ushadidi May Improve The World”

  1. Bruce, was there any discussion of how the platform would potentially protect the identities of individuals who were providing updates? To your “social impact” point, I would just worry about an oppressive regime triangulating the location of some of the users.

    1. Sam: That’s a great question. I haven’t seen anything specifically about that, but I would hope (and expect) that Ushadidi has (or is developing) security measures to protect the identity (and exact location) of “informants.” It would be a complete nightmare if this information could somehow be repurposed by oppressive regimes.

  2. I was recently listening to an episode of NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook about the future of News, and the potential demise of the Daily Newspaper. It occurred to me that as investigative journalists and their readers search for alternative outlets and business models online, truth verification in an online world becomes increasingly important. Technology like this seems well suited to meet some of that demand.

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