Being part of Ushahidi has given us a front row seat to what I like to term the “InfoWars“. A time when it seems like the fourth and fifth estates are pitted against the other three.

  • The US is clueless in response to the Wikileaks release of war documents
  • The music and film industries continue to lose to the open web
  • South Africa seeks to muzzle the press
  • The UAE takes on RIM over the ability to read everyone’s email
  • In Australia you can’t link to certain sites from your personal website
  • More and more countries require SIM card registration on phones to track users

…it goes on.

This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s a reaction by those in the status quo (be they government, big business or large established organizations) to the inefficiencies that they represent in the system being overcome by changes in technology and culture. As the open web expands it becomes a real threat to controlling governments, even to the relevance of the nation state itself.

The Case of the Russian Fires

Blogging and social media have been utilized for transparency and accountability for a number of years. While that’s interesting in its own right, I find the translation of those online tools into offline activities far more compelling.

The Russian forest fires is a particularly interesting one, as it represents what appears to be a major shift in ownership and attitudes in Russia around governance and responsibility. At the same time, one of the main tools used to organize it was the Ushahidi platform (giving me that little bit of liberty to write some thoughts on the bigger picture).

“On the one hand, cooperation was empowered by a shared understanding that the government has failed to get the situation under control and, moreover, didn’t want to be held accountable for it. On the other hand, it was information technologies that provided both information exchange and tools for coordination and effective collaboration.”

Please, read the full Global Voices article on the Russian fires.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I don’t see too many governments being displaced or replaced by online cooperation alone. Trust, reputation and resources are just a few of the hurdles to overcome before that happens. Instead, I think we’re seeing the continuation of the refinement of mass movements, brought about by the inefficiencies in the system, which catch on faster and are enabled better online and then move offline for impact.