We mentioned late last year how open source software called Ushahidi — which means 'testimony' in Swahili — developed for election monitoring in Kenya was being used to similar effect in Afghanistan. Now reader Peace Corps Online adds a report from the NY Times that Ushahidi's is now becoming a hero of the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes. "Ushahidi is used to gather distributed data via SMS, email, or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. The program was developed after violence erupted during Kenya's disputed election in 2007. Ory Okolloh, a prominent Kenyan lawyer and blogger, had gone back to Kenya to vote and observe the election. After receiving threats about her work, she returned to South Africa where she posted her idea of an Internet mapping tool to allow people to report anonymously on violence and other misdeeds. Volunteers built the Ushahidi Web platform over a long weekend, and the site began plotting on a map, using the locations given by informants, user-generated cellphone reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes, and deaths. When the Haitian earthquake struck, Ushahidi went into action receiving thousands of messages reporting trapped victims; the same happened following the Chile earthquake. The Washington Post also used Ushahidi during the recent blizzards to build a site to map road blockages and the location of available snowplows and blowers. 'Ushahidi suggests a new paradigm in humanitarian work,' writes Anand Giridharadas. 'The old paradigm was one-to-many: foreign journalists and aid workers jet in, report on a calamity, and dispense aid with whatever data they have. The new paradigm is many-to-many-to-many: victims supply on-the-ground data; a self-organizing mob of global volunteers translates text messages and helps to orchestrate relief; then journalists and aid workers use the data to target the response.'"
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