In what is becoming typical Ushahidi fashion, we’re going into a hot zone with little warning and improve, yet only half-baked software…
Over the last week, while the world watched the US elections (as were we), we were also watching the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since last Wednesday we’ve been quietly scrambling towards the first deployment of the new Ushahidi Engine into a crisis zone. Today, we’re announcing this instance to the world.
The DRC deployment can be found at http://DRC.ushahidi.com, and the mobile number to send SMS reports to is +243992592111.
Note: This is the alpha software for Ushahidi, so there are likely quite a few bugs and kinks that need to be worked out. If you find any, please submit them to bugs.ushahidi.com.
Help get the word out
We need to get the message to the people on the ground in the Eastern Congo that this tool is now available for them to report incidents in on. If you have contacts there, or can help spread the word through some other means, it would be a great help if you did so – even if it’s just point them to the website or telling them about the SMS number.
Setup and lessons learned
We don’t believe in waiting for software to be perfect before a launch, so we’ve tidied it up as best we can, and are doing constant updates along the way. This instance we’re running on our own servers for speed and ease of updates.
We run what we’re calling our “tech hub”, which features a mobile phone with a DRC SIM card, tethered to a local PC running FrontlineSMS. Whenever this computer connects to the internet, it auto syncs with Ushahidi.
David Kobia worked very hard through the weekend to get the SMS functionality right. We’re using a combination here of FrontlineSMS to receive local SMS from anyone in the DRC at +243992592111, with a completing feedback loop from the admin area to the incident submitter that goes through Clickatell. Ken Bank’s team at FrontlineSMS has been very quick on the ball to provide us updated code samples to get everything working in time (big thanks!).
At the same time, this isn’t Kenya, so none of the Ushahidi team is well positioned to manage any kind of approval or verification of reports that come into the system. We’ve found a couple local groups that are willing to help us with this, including HEAL Africa. Their members are helping to report incidents, as well as verify incoming reports.
The categories being used in the DRC are different. One of the new ones is “verified reports” which only come from users who are known quantities by the groups managing the Ushahidi instance. It’s a form of more “trusted” reports. While we’re optimistic about gathering reports from people all over the Eastern Congo, we know that there is a certain amount of disinformation that goes on. We are actively looking at ways to neutralize false reports and encourage factual ones.
We’re also working on the French translation, and we need to be proactive here in doing other major language translations before they’re needed. If you’re an expert in a major global language, we’d love to hear from you.