With a few Nairobi friends, we are helping support our local community:

Why this Crowdmap?

  • To help the laudable efforts of @KenyaRedCross, @Mtotowajirani , @KenyaRoadSafety and others
  • To reduce the noise to signal ratio on the hashtag, so that information  can be organized and visualized easily.
  • To create an archive of what happened online in response to the strike and debilitating state of mobility in Kenya.

Context: The Kenyan government recently gazetted new traffic rules that would see Kenyan motorists facing stiff penalties for traffic offences, starting Dec 1st 2012. On Thursday 29th November matatu operators, the largest public transport providers in Kenya, went on strike to protest against the new law, bringing the public transportation system in the country to a standstill. The operators claimed that the new stringent measures would give the police leeway to extort money from them and run them out of business.

As a result, thousands of Kenyans found themselves stranded, or forced to walk long distances to and from work.

As more and more people were stranded as a result of the strike Simeon Oriko using his Twitter account @mtotowajirani started the #CarPoolKE hashtag to harness the power of social media to encourage car pooling to get people home. The Kenya Red Cross Twitter account @KenyaRedCross got behind the campaign and flexed their considerable online muscle to help Simeon get the message out. Kenyans on Twitter embraced the idea and are using the hashtag to offer and request for rides. Civic compassion at work!

The team at Ushahidi started this map to capture, categorize, geo locate and visualise as many of those tweets as we could to help make information on who was offering a ride and who needed a ride easier to find to and use.

Information flow was great in the beginning with specific needs being expressed and others offering to help. As time went on, the signal faded with the hashtag being used for jokes and not for its original intended purpose.

The problems we encountered early on were mostly how to efficiently sort through the feed of tweets to ascertain what was useful to map and what was not. This is an issue we have had for a long time. We did this manually at first using the admin panel of the Ushahidi platform. To save time, we used the trusted reporters feature which helped us filter incoming feed of information into something mappable. It provided a great starting point.

How did we decide which twitter handles were trusted? First we started with the @Kenyaredcross as they are a credible organization that has been using twitter to inform the public in Kenya.

On day two, we turned to our in-house tool SwiftRiver to help us filter the feed of information. We set up a river, and filtered out the mappable tweets into separate (buckets) that match the Crowdmap categories.

Snapshot of the Car Pool KE River

The filtered content subsequently got pushed out to crowdmap via the Swift-Ushahidi plugin. That pushed content required very little human input since it was already geolocated and set up as approved reports in Crowdmap. This was much easier than day one.

The Swiftriver plugin on Crowdmap

Through working on this Crowdmap, we realized that there is a need to have a theme/view that surfaces the curated signal sent in from SwiftRiver; particularly highlighting the ‘just received’ tweets that people can act upon quickly if they choose to. A deprecation of tweets and ‘resolved’ or ‘successful rides’ is also needed. For this, we are taking inspiration from Corruption Mapper Kallxo, which shows the older reports with lighter colors.

Making this theme/view mobile friendly is going to be a priority as more and more Kenyans get smartphones. The responsiveness of the site, both on desktop and mobile will be key. We envision a simple mobile view that would have two simple buttons. One for ‘I need a ride’ and another for ‘I have a ride’. Reducing friction for users is paramount and has influenced our ongoing redesign of Crowdmap.

Some of these issues will be addressed in the new Crowdmap and Version 3.0 and some work on 3.0 is already in play.

We invite the community to share their thoughts and better yet, help us create the plugins, so that you do not have to start from scratch with your projects.

Additional Strategy Lessons
If your organisation has credibility, like the Kenya Red Cross, you can get the crowd to organize quickly and effectively as they did with #CarPoolKE

Thank you to the following: Kenya Red Cross, Kenya Road Safety, Simeon Oriko, Daudi Were, Juliana Rotich, Brian Muita, Emmanuel Kala and last but not least; Seth Kigen.