Screen Capture of Drumknott Website
A few days ago, I heard a neat piece on crowdsourcing from the Ted Radio Hour. In one segment, Clay Shirky talked about why we collaborate and mentioned a tool called Ushahidi. Ushahidi – both the company and the tool – were created in response to 2007 Kenya Presidential Elections were the software was used to track outbreaks of violence. Since then it’s been used for everything from charting destruction caused by earthquakes to school & road closings caused by snow storms.
The software works by aggregating reports from various channels – Twitter, SMS, email, and submissions from the web – and displaying them on a map.
As our mainstream media channels become more and more homogeneous, it’s very easy for events that might be important for a local community or populous to be eclipsed by national matters. Think about the standard local news broadcast: usually 30 minutes to 1 hour long with commercials. On top of that take away time for Sports, Weather, & local reactions to national stories, and how much time do you actually have left for local news? In a city like Houston, there has to be hundreds of stories that fall through the cracks everyday, each one of them with the potential to change someone’s life.
Up till this point, the consumers’ interactions with news media have been very one sided. Most newsrooms have had some sort of hotline where you can report breaking news for sometime now, and as technology has advanced, have added the ability to comment on various reports on their websites. But in the end, it’s ‘they’ who determine what is broadcast and what isn’t.
I believe that by using tools like Ushahidi, we can catch some of the stories that fall through the cracks and enable a sort of patron driven news reporting. I can envision smaller neighborhood newspapers and action groups using it to keep their constituencies informed on various issues and to solicit reports directly from them.
I’ve set up an Ushahidi instance at http://drumknott.com. It’s very much not production – it’s more than a little temperamental and will probably slow to a crawl if there’s more than a few people looking at it at a time. For the most part, it’s easy to set up. You can download the software at http://www.ushahidi.com/products/ushahidi-platform. Ushahida also has a hosting service called Crowdmap at http://www.ushahidi.com/products/crowdmap. Give it a shot and help change the way news is made!