[Guest blog post by Lela Prachad and JD Godchaux from NiJeL.org]

As mentioned briefly in Patrick Meier’s last post, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) created a CrowdMap instance on January 25, right at the start of the protests in Egypt. However, the last reports were approved by mid-day on January 26, over a day before the Internet was shut down in Egypt. No new reports have been posted to this instance even though the Internet is now available in Cairo.

There are a number of possibilities as to why this CrowdMap instance is not currently being administered, but obviously the lack of Internet service made it impossible for the ANHRI staff in Egypt to log in and administer the site. It’s also likely that most – if not all – of the ANHRI staff are taking part in the protests. It should also be noted that ANHRI’s offices are near Tahrir Square and might not currently be accessible.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that concentrating the administrative functions for an Ushahidi/CrowdMap instance in the hands of a small number of people, all in the same geographic, social and political space, creates an obvious vulnerability in the system. CrowdMap is fantastic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the distributed, cloud-based architecture. In this case, the Egyptian government could have blocked CrowdMap altogether, but they could not have taken this site down for others outside of Egypt. But, CrowdMap and Ushahidi can not on their own overcome what we call the “administrative vulnerability” that the 25Jan CrowdMap instance faced.

We think that there is still need for a dedicated site for the ongoing events in Egypt and the work of the Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) to re-purpose their U-Shahid installation is a great starting point for that effort. We would very much like to see the efforts of the ANHRI and DISC merged together in some way. Having redundancy here only serves to confuse. There is also a need over the coming days and weeks to include other data on a dedicated Egypt installation to help Egyptians find and share basic necessities like working ATM machines, food locations, and other information. We’re working to forge partnerships to do exactly that and any help that the CrisisMapping community can provide would be much appreciated.

We know from our experience in this area that to be most effective, there must be dedicated volunteers on the ground backed by strong organizations who can coordinate the volunteers,  publicize the system, and set standards for incoming reports. Organized Crisis Camps and allies outside of Egypt can play an important supportive role, but we think that the Ushahidi instance will serve the affected people best if organizations on the ground take the lead on what the purpose of the instance should be. Additionally, there will likely be government interference with the system and the administrator of any sensitive system should be prepared. To these points, we continue to offer our assistance to ANHRI, DISC and any others interested in improving a dedicated Egyptian CrowdMap or Ushahidi instance.

Finally, with continuing unrest across the Middle East, there appears to be a need for both a region-wide collection of reports to show the scale of the pro-democracy protests, as well as a proactive attempt amongst organizations in countries with nascent political uprisings to use tools like Ushahidi and CrowdMap to document these efforts. To overcome the administrative vulnerabilities we’ve outlined, it is useful for these organizations to forge partnerships with trusted, like-minded groups outside of their geographic, social and political framework to help them administer their instance if something goes awry.

Update: When considering the use of Ushahidi/Crowdmap, be sure to review the practical considerations guide, and other guides available in our resources page.