Using Mobile Phones to Make a Difference: The Ushahidi Project

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Facilitated by David Kobia, Ushahidi

Ushahidi is an innovate platform that enables cell phones to be used in citizen reporting on matters from elections to disasters. It has been used in Kenya and across Africa, and new applications are of the platform are in development. David will explain the platform, and describe situations where the platform is being used.

More info:

Session Notes

Ushahidi -

David tells us the story of the history of ushahidi as being born out of the kenyan conflict when there was a media black out.

folks who were bloggers saw information moving around via blogs and text and went looking for a way to make that information available. At first they were using a google map to show were things were happening. In africa most people don't have internet but more have phones.

- Other folks in south africa wanted to use the platform and used it and did.

- they were moved to make this an open source project so that other folks don't have to start from scratch like they did.

- ushahidi works to dump social media into a central platform.

- initial ushahidi beta version was tested in the democratic republic of congo. to see if folks were gonna use it.

- testing also was done in gaza by al jazeera

- an important ah ha is if it works in africa it will work anywhere and they have been working on making simple javascript and other platforms

It's open source and available on git hub at:


have you seen it used in other situations, other than election monitoring and crisis? - it's been used in madagascar for deforestation reporting

what has been the hardest thing about sheparding it? - no profits want to horde data not share.

Do you offer this as a services? - no but anyone can download and create an instance.

Does it take voicemail? -no

comment: seems like that would be good for situations where literacy isn't high.

what is the outgoing data format? - email or text message.

you poll flickr? so through the interface do you pull it through geocodes? how do you get data? - you tell ushahidi to poll by hash or tag

-- how do you verify what has happened? - they are adding a verify button. it is defintlty open to data poisoning.

do you get attacked? not so far but only because the governments are naive.

how are you incentivizing people to use this software? - just telling them to text the number, they are motivated because they are involved.

what is it written in? - php mysql etc

how do you geo code the text message? - most text messages are very vanilla, you can just ask the person. there are some folks called metacarta that can convert cell phone numbers to location.

Is it available in any other languages? - not really but we are looking to crowd sourcing to do that.

why did folks come to this session? - organization is invovled in localization and data reporting. - can see lots of applications for this for situations and community response - copwatch etc. - can see lots of uses for this in reporting natural dissasters

What is the tech behind the incoming texting? - rest API?

Frontline SMS allows you setup your own mobile sms server -- you set it up and you connect your phone to it. they have ushahidi talking to front line sms and it will talk to other sms gateways like clickatell.

some folks phones can't use the phone apps what do they get? - text message alerts.

can you walk us through the process for the person on the street in kenya? - they can send messages and get alerts via the gateway.

how much identifiable information is being recorded about the person who sent the message? - heres where that gets complex -- you need the phone number and you can't stop the phone company telling them that information. but we have interest in getting encrypted sms.

are there any big hurdles you overcame? - lack of standards on phone tech and sms.

what is the automatic -- it's not a really a gis app yet but mostly it does timeline and location based on setting the geocode

where is ushahidi going to expand to? - central repo for data and data sharing between different instances.

is there a way to export the data from one instance? - yes as a report in csv but it's just the report, plus time and

how are you funded? - humanity united - part of media foundation, mcarthur grant but we don't plan to sell it.

how anonymous is this? can it be less anonymous? - we have been trying to build a points system to rate information. currently everything needs to be admin approved but we are looking at a way to auto approve credible folks.

are there any security best practices that you can mention? - we try not to be a activist organization, we are software development group.

can you integrate police scanner information? - um give me your email?

folks interested in getting working on an instance? - sure yeah hacking?