Ushahidi and the Changing Face of Media

Erik Hersman
Feb 25, 2009

I, and the rest of the Ushahidi team are honored to win a WeMedia Gamechangers award. Other winners include: ZeFrank, SocialVibe, Innocentive, Freewheelin’, Twitter, David Plouffe (Obama campaign), and the Knight Foundation. It's important to understand how the lowering of barriers is creating a situation where true gamechangers come from non-traditional areas. Who would have guessed that a group of bloggers and technologists from Kenya would create a potentially gamechanging platform for crowdsourcing crisis information...? Dale started my talk off with a fake "alert" that there was a tsunami hitting South Beach (Miami). We had decided to start with this because we wanted to show the power of using the Ushahidi platform anywhere in the world, not just in Africa. Recently, I had a long discussion with a Reuters senior correspondent on the changing media landscape. I'll be the first to admit that I know little about traditional media from an academic or professional sense. I've been a consumer of that media instead. However, there was one comment that stood out to me, when he said that services like Ushahidi provide a much quicker route to information. If you know anything about the wire services, speed is of the essence. This is true, but it's not the whole truth. What is more interesting is if you take a look at a study done by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative on media during the post-election violence in Kenya. They compared Ushahidi data with bloggers and traditional media. Here is a screenshot of that. What you see is that while many times bloggers and traditional media focused around the same areas and echoed each other, while Ushahidi had information coming in from places well off of "the media grid". In effect, Ushahidi was not just providing a way to get information quicker, but what we had stumbled upon was a way to gather information from areas where media wasn't. I think that is the true power of tools like ours. That they allow anyone, with the most rudimentary of devices, to send in a report or story of what is happening around them in near real-time. Then, that report is made public and others can act upon it.