Saturday, Fleet Week, Blue Angels, Silicon Valley Code Camp and a warm sunny day in San Francisco, and happily, about twenty people spent the day thinking about mapping their communities and verification of data. Though we planned for hacking code too, folks were drawn to these tasks.

Verification Brainstorming

Verification discussions

The question was how to think about (and possibly design in) more flexibility for verification in Ushahidi. Verification is a critical feature of journalism but what does verification mean within the context of crowdsourced and breaking news, such as when a report comes in through social media from a remote location? If a reporter in New York sees a tweet or Facebook mention of a bombing in Tahir Square, how can the reporter be confident in that report?

The group explored models for what variables might contribute to or detract from verification of the report. Big issues identified included the number of sources attached to one event, as well as popularity, location, time, reputation, history, and corroboration. One of the solutions, proposed by George Chamales, is an event-centric system: reports of events come in to the system, and each report is tied to a reporter. Reports could be aggregated into events by grouping reports with similar metadata or content (time, location, keywords, tags, etc.), potentially using a combination of natural language processing and human judgement. The reporter has data attached to it: the history (that this reporter has filed reports), the corroboration (that the event has also been reported on by other reporters, or does not run counter to other reports), and reputation (a problematic and arbitrary algorithm).

Corroboration rating could be measured on a scale:

  • 1 (perfect corroboration with other reports)
  • 0 (not enough data)
  • -1 (reports run counter to others) to ensure that outlier reporters are not penalized for unique reports.

Overall, the suggestions for automated or automated systems with human curation tended to focus on corroboration, rather than verifying reports against hard data from outside the system; this could still lead to the system offering a way for users to have increased confidence in breaking reports. The group also looked at existing ways that are used to verify reports such as simply contacting reporters via phone and highlighted the need to build flexible and relevant solutions to this challenging problem. And, as Rob Munro wrote:

“Verification discussions often abstract from communication to information. This is fine, but it means people often miss the most obvious verification method: simply contacting the reporters directly.”

Prototype Mapping

The City of San Francisco, Department of Emergency Management – Water Hydrant map demo

With thousands of hydrants in the city, the map concept is to help understand the water resources available during emergencies. Residents of San Francisco can submit information about where hydrants are located, report their condition, and help us quickly identify when hydrants are not working.

During emergencies this information can be used by the fire departments and public works to determine the status of the city’s water resources and determine which hydrants require repair.

San Francisco reports page

Thanks to Alicia Johnson and Kristin Hogan of the City of San Francisco, Department of Emergency Management for answering our teams questions and providing us the idea to proto-map.

Azul Project mapping

Marce GutiĆ©rrez, founder of the The Azul Project, arrived with an event goal to learn about Ushahidi and Crowdmap and build a protomap for Azul (very draft) The Azul Project is an amazing and radical approach to determine accurate/representative/inclusive public land use along California’s coast. Merce is starting a non-profit to, for example, work with volunteers to capture, store, and publish the stories, traditional knowledge, safety hazards, pollution reports, and more of people who actually use coastal land. These folks are otherwise ignored and effectively discriminated against due to the real estate incentives to minimize public land and maximize beach-front property. To learn more contact her at
@minsd or @azulproject.

Other Outcomes

Also, Matt Senate of the Digital Citizens Project is cooking up a map project. I’m sure he will add it into the notes.

We look forward to hearing more seeds of ideas built to action in the future from San Fran area. To the participants, thanks for sharing the day with us.

Thank you, Mozilla

We can’t thank Mozilla and Atul Varma, our chaperone, enough for opening up their offices and sharing their time to brain on a warm autumn day.


[This hackathon report back includes notes from the Verification team, Marce GutiƩrrez and Matt Senate. ]