The work of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the recent floods in Queensland has been nothing short of remarkable. ABC was in the middle of piloting some of our new products internally when a true disaster struck in the form of sever flooding in the north eastern Australian state. In a matter of hours their trial of our products escalated to an actual emergency deployment, with their staff, and our own racing to assist the victims of the flood, as best as our technology allows. They’ve done a great recap of their experience here, which I encourage you to read for details.
What was different about the Queensland deployment for our staff, was that ABC was the first organization to embrace the new Ushahidi ecosystem of products in a big way. This included SwiftRiver, Sweeper, SMSSync, Crowdmap, and Ushahidi 2.0. Some of these products were direct responses to inefficiencies we’ve faced in the past as an organization, others were completely untested at this scale.
SMSSync as an Alternative to Buying a Shortcode
SMSSync is a product we developed to allow people to turn their Android phone in to a low to no cost SMS gateway. Basically your phone number becomes the gateway, with people texting your phone number while a script passes incoming messages to the Ushahidi deployment. ABC used this to quickly deploy a number the public could use to populate their deployment without the need for cooperation from mobile telcos.
Of course you lose the benefit of a ‘short’ number and reverse (ex. 4636) but it’s a working alternative for groups who don’t have other options.
Sweeper for Twitter Curation
ABC was dealing with the common problem Ushahidi users have: an excessive influx of data from Twitter. Using our Sweeper application the team experimented with curating Tweets outside of Ushahidi using a plugin called Ushahidi Report Push which simply takes verified content from Sweeper and auto-maps it in Ushahidi. Because Sweeper uses natural language processing and the Yahoo Placemaker API to auto-geolocate content, while using user interaction to prioritize incoming data, the workflow is easier than curating Tweets in Ushahidi.
ABCs staff was keen to try out Sweeper and helped us identify a lot of bugs and inefficiencies we’re now working to improve.
The default way to deploy Ushahidi these days is to use our cloud product, Crowdmap.com which lets one get started with Ushahidi in minutes. The Queensland Floods deployment was so popular though, that they quickly brought down our servers with traffic! We worked with them to move them to their own server and have spent the past week making sure their private server stays up.
This much traffic, speaks to what a critical resource their team was able to offer to the community affected by the floods.
SwiftRiver API for filtering out duplicate content
Although our Duplication Filter API crashed, we eventually got it back up and are now using it to ‘sanitize’ feeds of realtime data (ex. retweets).
Queensland is one of the biggest Ushahidi deployments to date, both in terms of popularity and in terms of just how many of our apps they were willing to utilize. I’m glad we were able to help, but more importantly, I wish our new friends well as their efforts shift to reconstruction and cleanup.