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 WordPress.com."
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!