Crowdmap Offers a Cloud-Based Crisis Mapping Service

map_world_august10Improvements in mapping and mobile technologies have helped facilitate the development of new social innovation tools that respond quickly and efficiently to crisis situations worldwide. "Crisis mapping," as its called, is a processing of collecting mobile and map information and crowdsourcing, visualizing and analyzing that data. Mapping can be undertaken by researchers, first responders, NGOs, citizen scientists.

Ushahidi is a software tool uses for such mapping projects. Swahili for "witness," Ushahidi was initially created following a disputed presidential election in Kenya in 2007. The website collected eyewitness reports of violence, contributed via email and SMS. The software used to build the site was open sourced in 2008, and the Ushahidi platform has been in development since then.

Today Ushahidi announced the launch of Crowdmap, a hosted service providing Ushahidi "out of the box with nothing to install." Analogous perhaps to the difference between Wordpress.org (a downloadable version of WordPress that you run on your own server) and Wordpress.com (a Wordpress blog hosted on the Wordpress server), Crowdmap will provide a hosted version of the Ushahidi software.

The Ushahidi blog boasts that with Crowdmap "it takes all of five minutes to get a vanilla deployment up and running on the crowdmap.com subdomain." In a crisis situation, you cannot wait for new servers to be launched, for new software to be downloaded. Even though Ushadishi is lightweight, installation and customization still takes hours. When responding to the recent earthquake in Haiti, it took the Ushadishi team over half an hour to set up a response system. That's not good enough. In a world of real-time Web technologies, you want to respond in minutes.

Setting up a "deployment" (a map of a crisis situation) is relatively simple. Designate a subdomain for your URL, give your deployment a name and tagline, and you're ready.

Using CrowdMap, people can tag sites with numerous flags: riots, deaths, property loss, sexual assault internally displaced people, government forces, civilians, looting, peace efforts, tagging the location on a map. Like Ushahidi, CrowdMap accepts SMS reports (and in many parts of the world, SMS communications are the primary mobile technology).

Tools like Crowdmap help demonstrate the ways in which technology can further social innovation, democratize access to information, can communicate crucial geospatial data, and can help aid come quickly and efficiently during crisis situations.

Photo credits: Flickr user Sue Clark

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