Someone else has probably written this post before, but today, as I am amazed by the incredible work votereport.in is doing to cover election day violence across India, I recognized that I too should acknowledge this key bit of technology. Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili is, according to their website:
building a platform that crowdsources crisis information. Allowing anyone to submit crisis information through text messaging using a mobile phone, email or web form.
They first did this with moderate success during post-election violence that broke out in Kenya in 2008.
Since then they've garnered quite a bit of attention, also assisting Al Jazeera in sourcing information about events in Gaza during the 2008-2009 Israeli incursion.
Ushahidi is working on a lot of incredible projects, and best of all, they're focused primarily in Africa, an large area of great need and with little ongoing attention from the international community. For example another one of their deployments is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffering from internal conflict that has been ongoing for more than a decade.
Other than its work with Al Jazeera, the project does not appear to have taken too much interest in direct work with news outlets or newsgathering. However, I'm seeing really incredible possibilities here, imagine if something like blip.tv's API, combined with Ushahidi.
The ability to easily source and display videoclips related in physical space immediately increases our capacity for understanding the locations of these crises. Providing them an image is also a first-step toward humanizing those affected.
If we then add in a tool such as Utterli or TwitterFone to enable audio dispatches, we have empowered a whole group of other new journalists or civilians who might be involved in crowd-sourcing news, people who may not have the bandwidth or payment plan for sending video or audio, but can bring us live to the scene via interviews over their phone or daily dispatches about their lives.
The Reuters Mobile Toolkit brought a lot of promise to the future of digital media and mobile journalism, but without a platform that's built with this kind of production specifically in mind, so far we've seen little in the way of revolutionary production and distribution of this type of mobile digital media content.
Sourcing Ushahidi, along with a few other key social media tools, we could build the future of news and journalism distribution right now.
Keep in mind there's also nothing to say that the content must be mobile-produced, this is simply an added advantage that could assist professional journalists in sourcing content and perhaps exponentially improve the news and information availability to the international community.
As with many things I've been discussing lately, we can do this right now. What it requires is that a few investors express interest and commitment in ensuring that humanity has the tools necessary to better understand each other, and that a vast community begins to demand the information necessary to implement our vast new capability for learning from each other.
Together, utilizing social media and digital media tools available now, we can construct the platform necessary for the next phase of journalism.