The creators of Ushahidi, a crisis mapping platform, have developed hardware that keeps wireless communication going in the midst of chaos.
By David Talbot
Why: Web tools can help people respond to crises such as earthquakes and political protests.
Key innovation: Its open-source crowdsourcing tool overlays field reports on maps, providing critical and often life-saving data during emergencies.
Ushahidi is a nonprofit, open-source software company that develops a Web platform that makes it easy for people in any part of the world to disseminate and collect information about a crisis. Users can submit reports by text message, e-mail, or Web postings, and the software aggregates and organizes the data into a map or timeline. In addition to its crisis-mapping software, the company has also launched a product called Swift River that uses machine-learning algorithms to extract and organize accurate information from the flood of e-mails, text messages, blog posts, and tweets that can seem overwhelming in the first days of a crisis.
Ushahidi’s crisis-mapping software was first used in early 2008 to track violent outbreaks related to the disputed Kenyan election of 2007, and it has been used since to coordinate everything from disaster relief following the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, to snow cleanup in New York City this past winter.
Ushahidi has never accepted government funds, instead relying on grants from philanthropic organizations like Humanity United and the Omidyar Network to keep it going. Last year, it began generating revenues for the first time through custom deployments of its software for clients.
Challenges and Next Steps:
The company recently launched a cloud-based version of its basic mapping platform that can be deployed quickly and easily and is hosted on Ushahidi's servers. The basic service is free but the company has developed plug-ins and upgrades that it will charge for.