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Tag Archives: mapping

With little knowledge of HTML, what is involved in making a Twitter Bot that aggregates & retweets geotagged info?

Hey everyone! As last week, you can read about this week’s update at @Leslie4IceCream, or in the Twitter badge below. I’m also working on setting up a WordPress blog, so everything can be better mashed together & presented. Here’s my blog so far: http://icecreamspy.wordpress.com/. I want to test everything out with a blog first, before I commit to buying a website.

As an update, I mentioned on Twitter that I was having some trouble with Yahoo Pipes, but I think I might have figured it out.

Here’s my “XL Tweet” with my question for easy reading:

Twitter / Leslie4IceCream

Mmmm…It’s Almost Ice Cream Season!

Hey everyone! For my next travelogue, I want to try to actually make some of the new media that we discuss in class. You can read more about what I want to do on my Twitter account: @Leslie4IceCream. I’m working on hopefully getting a plugin installed to WordPress, so you won’t have to go directly to Twitter, but for now, Twitter will do! The two images below will take you to my Twitter account.

Twitter / Leslie4IceCream

Ushahidi-Haiti: a revolutionary tool for crisis relief response!

Within hours after the devastating earthquake in Haiti of January 12th, a small group of tech geeks and social activists of Ushahidi had set up an online platform that allowed to gather critical information about the situation and centralize it on an interactive “crisis map.” The site called Ushahidi-Haiti has become an extraordinary communication tool to assist the humanitarian relief efforts on the ground, and address the urgent needs of Haitians in innovative and unprecedented ways.

An SMS or Twitter feed to get help for people in Haiti

Besides monitoring traditional news media, Ushahidi’s relies on unconventional mechanisms to get information: people can submit reports using the Ushahidi’s homepage, Twitter, or email. If they are in Haiti themselves, they can even send a simple SMS indicating their needs free of charge to the local short code 4636.  Hundreds of Creole speaking volunteers, mostly members of the Haitian diaspora, translate and contextualize the messages, and forward them to otherUshahidi volunteers around the world. This second group identifies the exact geo-coordinates of the messages, and locates them on Ushahidi’s map. Then, the data is forwarded to different organizations that provide relief services, like the Red Cross or the United States Coast Guard. At the same time, it is streamed toUshahidi’s database that can be viewed publicly, but in general doesn’t reveal sensitive information like personal telephone numbers.

Ushahidi talks about its service on local radio programs, but most information is spread by word of mouth, calling on the Haitian diaspora. Internet or mobile phones are prerequisite too. In short: you need to be connected to get connected!

Finding GPS coordinates- not an easy task when they are no maps!

Although 35% of the Haitian population have mobile phones, most devices don’t have fancy GPS features. Each incoming messages must therefore be manually located; not an easy task as one volunteer recounts. If the address is unclear, Ushahidi members text back for more information, or communicate with other volunteers in chat rooms or on skype.

Tilman at CrisisCommons!

Tilman in action!

One of the big challenges for Ushahidi and relief organizations working on the ground has been to get precise maps of Haiti, especially of Port-au-Prince. For that reason, Ushahidi and other mind-liked communities like Open Street Map, International Crisis Mappers,  and CrisisCommons, have launched a campaign to map Haiti. Volunteers from around the world work together to create up-to-date maps, using satellite imagery, professional know-how, and and local knowledge of Haiti’s cartography. On a volunteer meeting organized last week byCrisisCommons, I’ve met Tilman, a German journalist and cartographer, who explained me how volunteers improve OpenStreetMap of Haiti. YouTube Preview Image

However, it is very difficult to get accurate information from undocumented areas, like informal settlements. In the future, Ushahidi seeks to work with local communities to create public digital maps of their neighborhoods, following the example of a project in Nairobi, Kenya.

Follow-up mechanisms and verification processes

Obviously, the most important step is to organize help for the disaster-affected population. Ushahidi is not an humanitarian organization that can provide emergency services. Although it has a full time representative in Haiti to establish liaison with relief organizations, and has experienced some success stories, it can’t guarantee follow-up of all the help requests. The primary objective is to make its data available to organizations like the Red Cross, FEMA , or Plan International, that are free to use them according to their needs and interests. One obstacle represents the verification process. Reports only get marked as verified if more than two messages from different sources describe the same incident. At the moment, this is done manually, butUshahidi is working with Swift River to automate the system in the future.

A help request sent to Ushahidi

If there exists only one message, the report has to be verified personally, for example by a phone call. However, this mechanism proves to be very difficult. In my research, I’ve met other activists from CrisisCommons volunteering for the Haiti-Earthquake-Information, a web application that worksindependently but in synergy with Ushahidi, and has established contact with the World Food Program.  I’ve learned that reaching a person that texted for help can be an complicated and frustrating endeavor. Most of the time, a phone number wasn’t working, or we were directed to the voice mail. On other occasions, we could get through, but a child picked up that didn’t understand who we were. The only effective way is to send a contact person directly to the ground to verify an urgent report.

Besides mobilizing concrete actions, it is important to get vital information back to people on the ground. As Internet penetration is very limited in Haiti, and most connections don’t work properly after the earthquake, this is anotherweak point of the project. Though, with the help of FrontlineSMS , Haitians can subscribe to alerts to receive information by text message. This feature most certainly be improved and expanded. Other projects heading into this direction are under-way, like OpenSolace for example.

Crowdsourcing as a novel tool of disaster response

Ushahidi volunteers at the Fletcher School

Ushahidi has launched an unprecedented initiative to address the immediate needs of the earthquakerelief efforts in Haiti. Based on pure volunteer efforts, and without the managerial skills of a large organization, it has achieved to offer a comprehensive picture and almost real-time information of the situation on the ground. An extraordinary accomplishment considering the chaos and the lack of information that characterizes the aftermath of a large disaster! The crisis map can be a very useful tool for relief organizations. However, the platforms faces major obstacles in organizing actual follow-up, and getting information back to report senders. In addition, if favors the digitally and socially connected, as access to technology and links to the Haitian diaspora are indispensable. It will be interesting to observe how Ushahidi -Haiti will evolve in the future, and if it will achieve to transform itself into a sustainable platform for development efforts.

But first and foremost, I  am amazed how complete strangers and such diverse actors have come together to collaborate effectively, and get the platform going. It proves how powerful crowdsourcing can be; the outcome has been stupendous, and certainly beyond any imagination! Ushahidi has changed the face of disaster response for the future.

Twitter and Geotagging: The Conclusion

This travalogue began several weeks ago with a simple question: Should I enable geotagging on my personal Twitter account?

In my research about what some of the risks could be for users who did enable geotagging, I identified several groups of people that could be risk. They included political activists whose tweets may be used for identification and prosecution of participation in political rallies, young people who may be at risk from lecherous marketers, and sexual predators, and high-profile individuals, such as celebrities, politicians etc who are often targets of the news media, the paparazzi and so called cyber-stalkers.

Although I do not belong to any of the above groups, I’ve decided not to enable geotagging on Twitter. I’m not denying there are benefits to geotagging, many of which I think Nadine has covered in her research on Ushahidi, however the circumstances that people find themselves in those types of situations that may benefit from it are different from my circumstances.

According to this article on The Next Web, only .23% of tweets are geotagged (this article was from January and I couldn’t find any more recent data, but I wonder if this number has jumped significantly). Regardless of whether other people enable geotagging, my main concern is about the ability of this software to track people’s locations with respect to personal privacy. I understand I’m inherently giving up my privacy by participating in Twitter to begin with, but I’m not comfortable with enabling people to track my specific location. I think I would begin to self-censor my tweets if I did enable geotagging, and that’s counter to the way that I want to be using Twitter. Even though Twitter allows its users to delete their geotagged tweets, it takes up to 30 minutes before this can take effect, plus the location information that has been gathered by third-party applications is not necessarily deleted. Plus, geotagged information is exact and links to Google Maps. I also don’t use third-party applications that benefit from enabling this kind of geotagging information, applications such as FourSquare, Birdfeed, Twidroid etc.

This short video from YouTube demonstrates how to locate a random person on Twitter that has their geotagging setting enabled and sums up in under two minutes why I don’t want to enable geotagging.YouTube Preview Image

Clearly I am concerned about privacy, and therefore I think Twitter should be commended for making sure that this service is opt-in. As we’ve discussed several times in class, people rarely change privacy settings that are default, and I think they’ve done a good thing making this something people have to consciously decide to do. This is what annoyed me about Google Buzz – they made it automatic! Twitter also allow users to selectively geotag, which means if I do find myself in a situation where I’d like to reveal my location (eg I’m in some sort of emergency), I would be able to do that.

Lastly I recognize that this issue of geotagging is not limited to the culture of Twitter but has larger implications in various aspects of our society and our given media environment. For example, every time I take a picture with my iPhone it asks if I want to record the location where the picture was taken from (I say no – so at least I tend to be consistent so far!) This travalogue has made me think more seriously about the use of location-based technology more generally, when I swipe my credit card for example I realize its effectively mapping my location at that certain point in time, but in that case only my credit card company has access to it. It reminds me of The Trap, and that I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m mapping my location to a large extent regardless of whether or not I enable geotagging on Twitter. But for now, since I still have a choice, I will choose not to further allow my location to be specified without seeing a specific benefit. I don’t see the benefit of enabling other people to pinpoint my location.

Gawker Stalker map conclusion

So.   I have been digging and I will share with the class what I’ve found.  Thanks to archive.org, a site that basically archives the entire internet and lets you search in the “wayback” machine, I now know that the map was online from April 11, 2006 through July 31, 2008.

The Wayback Machine shows you archives of web pages.

Harris also told me that he asked someone he knows who works at Gawker about the map, and they flatly denied any existence of the map at all.  Hah!  I was also able to see what gawker.com/stalker USED to look like.  (These days it redirects to gawker.com/tag/stalker):

Please note that this image is from archive.org and the small image of the map and the red text was added by me in Photoshop.

As I mentioned in a previous post, George Clooney had a well publicized campaign against Gawker by encouraging people to post fake sightings and flooding their system.  Although I can’t find anything that specifically states where the map went, I would bet that legal action was taken against Gawker.  Clooney and other celebs clearly felt that it was an invasion of their privacy to have their locations broadcast against their own will.

The Geocaching Powers That Be Have Disappointed Me!

As much as I feel like I have been finding a lot of positive aspects surrounding Geocaching through my research, I have to say that I found myself disappointed tonight in the way in which the actual company of Geocaching.com (owned by Groundspeak) is run. A few days ago, I had posted a question to the “Forums” section of www.geocaching.com, asking people why they geocached, who they geocached with, and what they got out of it, stating that I was interested for a university course I was taking. A day later, I received an email from a Forums maintenance person, saying that “polls” are not to be posted on the forums without permission; he gave me an email address at Groundspeak to contact in order to ask for consent. I just received a response today, stating that they will not allow my survey on the forum, even though I stated it was for educational purposes. I thought most companies are usually happy to help out for the purpose of education, so I was disappointed by this response and thought I’d share it with you.

On the plus side, though, the original contact was helpful and directed me to a thread where someone had already asked those reading, “Why do you geocache?” If you guys want to check it out, there’s some great posts in there that help to show the physical socialization aspects of the game. I had asked him if it would be okay to simply post “Why do you geocache?” to the forum, but he steered me away from this course of action, stating that getting permission is the best route- I guess he was already jaded by my ulterior motive of education :-( .

Do you guys have problems when asking companies for information for educational purposes when doing any sort of research? Did I just go about this all wrong? I usually receive pretty positive responses when I mention the research is for school, so I thought this would have been the best route to take. But I guess not!

Relief by SMS? A first assessment

YouTube Preview Image You can better read the text if you enlarge the image.

PS: Here you can get a free 15 days trail of  Snapz Shot, a software that allows you to film your screen.

How can an SMS get help for a trapped person in Haiti?

Shorty after the earthquake, Ushahidi launched a new online mapping platform to assist the humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti. The idea sounds simple: people can send a text message to an indicated short number to communicate their needs and request help. But how does this system work? Even in New York, it wouldn’t be easy to set a rescue operation in motion by a simple SMS. Effective coordination between the different emergency services, like the ambulance association and the police and fire departments, requires excellent information exchange. However, communication often collapses in the wake of natural disasters, creating situations characterized by chaos and lack of information. How do people get in touch with each other? And how do they know which number to call?

In my next travel-blog, I will explore the complex interaction chain between the people that text for help and the diverse Ushahidi volunteers- either those based in New York or Port-au-Prince. Who is involved? How does the communication system work? In addition, I will analyze how the received information is verified and how actions are coordinated with the relief agencies. What happens if no geographic coordinates are available, or if the place in question is a slum where there are no official maps? When even experienced international humanitarian agencies face major difficulties in organizing effectively help, how does Ushahidi manage?

Schoolyard Foursquare or an Elusive Treasure Hunt? Oh, What to do?

GPS Satellite

Ten years ago, on May 1, 2000, the ability to track one’s self was revolutionized when the government had the feature Selective Availability removed from the Global Positioning System (better known as GPS). This gave normal civilians the ability to use GPS more accurately to determine their position in relation to a specific destination.

With the Internet continually becoming more ingrained in our everyday lives, the use of GPS is again being revolutionized and changed. Today, GPS is used for many different things, including determining turn by turn directions, researching the exact longitudinal and latitudinal degrees an individual is currently standing at, to play games, for government purposes, and even for marketing purposes.

There are many issues that can be discussed concerning privacy, the use of GPS, and the Internet. But, I have two specific topics in mind to consider for my next “travel destination,” both being real time location-based services/games. I am hoping for your help in determining which destination I should choose! The two destinations up for consideration are Foursquare and Geocaching.

iPhone App

The objective of Foursquare is  to give the player a new way of exploring their city by “checking in” at different locations using text messages or a device specific application. Users are then awarded points and badges for logging their destinations. I can see many issues arising with this site concerning marketers and the users’ privacy. It would be interesting to explore and research just where all of the location information stored in this game goes to, as well as the possible future implications of it.

My favorite explanation of geocaching is: modern day pirate treasure hunting. The objective is to use a handheld GPS device to hide and seek containers (with “treasure” inside) anywhere around the world. There are a handful of geocaching social networking sites where people log caches (the containers) that they’ve found and clues to those that they’ve personally hidden. I haven’t heard of any geocachers complaining about privacy issues, as it is a tight-knit community where a lot of trust is involved. But, it would be interesting to experiment with the game and see if I find any such issues. If I were to explore this topic, I’d use www.geocaching.com as my social networking site of choice, as it is the self-named “Official Global Cache Hunt Site” and the largest geocaching site.

What are your thoughts? Which GPS-related social networking site/game should I explore for the next few weeks?