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About the editors

  • Ruth Spencer (EJC)
    Ruth Spencer is a journalist, Editor, producer and hails from Montreal, Canada. She has worked for the European Journalism Centre since September 2008 and has edited all three rounds of TH!NK ABOUT IT. She has production experience in print media, theatre and broadcast television. She tweets via @thinkteam and is currently based in Toronto.
  • Guy Degen
    Guy Degen is an Australian freelance journalist and is based in Germany. He travels widely contributing stories to international broadcasters and is regularly commissioned by UN agencies as a multimedia producer. Guy writes for the Frontline Club blog and tweets via @fieldreports. Guy also trains journalists in multimedia skills and mobile journalism.


Making crisis mapping easier

Published 13th August 2010 - 13 comments - 4111 views -

The folks at Ushahidi have just released Crowdmap- a simplified web version of their open source crisis mapping tool.

Since it was first "deployed" in the field, Ushahidi has demonstrated its capacity to pull-in reports sent by SMS, tweets, hashtags, RSS, etc and organise data visually on a map.

It's been used to map data during conflicts, elections, natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

You can find some background on Ushahidi in this video and from a previous Th!nk3 post on how Al Jazeera used it in 2008 in Gaza. And, check out how it is being used in Haiti to assist earthquake recovery efforts and for the Gulf oil spill.


However, installing Ushahidi needed some pretty serious tech know-how and resources.

Now, with Crowdmap you can get going with your map in a few easy steps and without having to host it on your own server. So far it's had some positive feedback from The Guardian and the New York Times.

Kenyan activist and Ushahidi co-founder, Ory Okolloh, was quoted in The Guardian's blog: "A lot of the groups wanting to use Ushahidi didn't have a techy person to assist or couldn't afford a host. The idea is to make the tool more accessible, like with WordPress and"

Curious as ever, I decided to give it a quick go this week and set up a Th!nk3 Crowdmap.

Opening a user-account and managing the settings is quite similar to setting up a blog. Within an hour I had explored a lot of the main functions.

The platform offers quite a bit of flexibility to tailor your map and Crowdmap website. Each map "deployment" is given a designated Crowdmap URL address and this becomes the public web-based interface for your project.

For your "crowd", submitting a report is quite straightforward and again not unlike basic blogging. After selecting "SUBMIT A REPORT" from the drop-down menu from your map's website, your contributors are offered several fields to enter on a "form". This form can also be adapted to add extra data fields.

Text messages can be received and sent via the FrontlineSMS service and Crowdmap has instructions to walk you through this set up.

Gathering RSS feeds and #hashtags via Twitter is straightforward. I plugged in #think3, and in what seemed about a minute or so, the results began appearing in the Messages folder. From there you have options to verify the content and then create reports on the map.

Along with English, several languages are also available which is pleasing to see.

So check out Crowdmap and see what you think. I've added a few suggested categories to this Th!nk3 trial and will try to add some more data as time permits. If any Think3ers want to explore/experiment with this map and generate some more content do get in touch with me via Twitter: @fieldreports . Maybe you have some ideas to visualise the information we as a blogger community have produced about development and MDG's ?

Oh, and now that I'm back home for a bit, it would be remiss of me not to offer my congratulations to the first round of Think About It winners - enjoy the KL trip!


  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 14th August 2010:

    Thanks for this Guy! Will check it out. It’s a very interesting concept.

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 15th August 2010:

    Hello Guy,
    Google now has a “crisis response” application, featuring disaster relief in Pakistan. On the page, you can donate to Unifcef/Islamic relief, there is a news feed, a person finder and a “resource finder”. The latter two are especially helpful for locals and aid workers. It seems Google is doing the same as Ushahidi.

    I wondered, woulnd’t it be logical if the Red Cross would feature these disaster relief applications on their website? They are (among many other aid organizations) directly at the spot, and should incorporate these innovative methods to provide aid and support. Below the link to the google blog.

  • Helena Goldon on 16th August 2010:

    @ Hieke, from a source close the management of the Irish Red Cross I know they are working on a similar platform at the moment (based on mobiles and radio technology).

    @ all: I believe the use of communication technology in humanitarian reliefe requires an effort from true experts from different disciplines - IT, radio, communications. I am glad it is happening.

    I strongly recommend a Harvard Online Live Seminar (still available online): “ICT and Protection: Can Information and Communication Technology Enhance Humanitarian Action?”

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 17th August 2010:

    thanks for the online courses links. definitelly it’s worth to sign up to Harvard’s newsletters, already Helena linked it as a comment on one of my post…

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 17th August 2010:

    wow, I’ve just sign up and discovered how much our think3 community is based on the layout of harvards one smile

  • Johan Knols on 18th August 2010:


    Great initiative.
    However, I have one big question: most disasters happen in the developing world where there are limited possibilities to go online. It is nice to have access to the platform in the developed world, but how effective will the info on Ushahidi be if it can’t get accessed from the very spot of a disaster? (Assuming that the site would be most useful in case of a disaster)

  • Guy Degen on 18th August 2010:

    @all thanks for the comments and tweet ideas via #think3. Johan @planyoursafari has suggested: “attach every article ( if possible) on #think3 to the relevant country on #ushahidi? Lot of work!

    Yep, busy bunch aren’t we - over 1100 posts.

    If any Think3-ers wants to volunteer to help do that let me know and I can also forward some admin details to you. 

    @heike on a collaborative platform I think Ushahidi makes good use of Google maps, though I see what you’re saying about doing the same thing. You’re also raising a good point about how might international agencies, NGO’s etc collaborate and organise themselves to use data tools during disaster relief/emergency situations. I’d be interested to find out more about that, and what @helena mentioned about the Red Cross.

    Ushahidi though seems to have a good approach aimed at working with all devices and platforms.

    @johan I’d pick up on Helena’s point, which I think she’s also referring to using as many forms of communication as possible. New media data tools could be used with traditional media. Just one example, information gathered, verified and plotted on an online map could be broadcast by local radio or TV stations.

    This blog post from FrontlineSMS also has some interesting ideas about using mobile phone text message for humanitarian aid, particularly in monitoring recovery efforts:

  • Guy Degen on 18th August 2010:

    Another article from The Guardian on Crowdmap:

    And, it’ll interesting to see what SwiftRiver can do.

  • Helena Goldon on 18th August 2010:

    @ Guy, thanks for the link on Frontline SMS - such tools are definitely a landmark in the humanitarian relief.
    @ all I took part in the discussion at the above mentioned Harvard Online Live Seminar and what struck me was concerns and uncertainties expressed by some of the participants about the privacy of the people affected by a disaster. I didn’t think it was very relevant and that the people in urgent need of help would at all consider the privacy of the content posted on Twitter or Crowdmap, but the doubt seemed to be mentioned by a few people.

    What are your views, Th!nkers?

  • Johan Knols on 18th August 2010:

    The people bringing up the possible problems with privacy have never been in a disaster, have they?

    I have been trying to add some of my own posts to the countries involved. Are you the one having to authorize the articles?
    You can send the admin details to my email address and I will start adding more info on Crowdmap.

  • Helena Goldon on 18th August 2010:

    Hi @ all
    Let me here share with you my knowledge (hope it’s not too much at once):

    I know of EPIC:

    of new Red Cross emergency radio:

    National Shelter System

    and this news:
    “New Red Cross Study Finds Web Users Would Turn To Social Media In Emergencies & Expect 1st Responders To Be Listening: 74% Want Response Less Than An Hour After Their Tweet or Facebook Post”

    Flarecaster that combines a phone call with a tweet smile

    Emergency Social Data Society where Red Cross exchanges their ideas:

  • Helena Goldon on 18th August 2010:

    and today’s news:

  • Guy Degen on 18th August 2010:

    @johan - DM your email address to me and I’ll send you admin details. All reports are in a folder for verification and then admin users on the site “approve”.

    Any thoughts on useful categories/sub categories to add?

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