Ushahidi is a platform for sharing and curating live information on a map. Since I wrote about it last year I’ve been fascinated by it for lots of reasons (not least the “swift river” approach to finding useful information amid a stream of irrelevant noise and echoes).
In this article and video from Nieman Lab, Patrick Meier, Ushahidi’s director of crisis mapping and strategic partnerships, discusses the platform’s potential uses for journalism. It’s worth a read in full, especially his ideas about a citizen volunteer app for smartphones, but it was this account of the use of Ushahidiby Al-Jazeera news network during the Gaza conflict that stood out for me:
What was also really interesting is that they did both bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing — which is sort of my own terms, so maybe I should explain. “Unbounded crowdsourcing” is what we are familiar with: the idea of opening up a platform to the world, and letting the world contribute. “Bounded crowdsourcing” is when you have a specific network of individuals who are doing the reporting. So it’s a known, trusted network of individuals.
So what they did is they had their own journalists on the ground, who were texting and tweeting live to the map, but they also opened it up to other residents — people in Gaza — to also submit information. And that combination, I thought, was really, really interesting. Because what you can then start doing is, even though you don’t necessarily know whether the crowd is trustworthy, or individuals in the crowd are trustworthy — if some of these individuals start also reporting the same event that the journalists are reporting, then you know they might actually be more trustworthy. And so it creates this kind of digital trace, or like a shadow of history, if you want, that allows you to start identifying which individuals in the crowd may actually be trustworthy. And you can sort of assign them a higher credibility score. So I’d love to see that happen again.