Other Mapping Platforms and What They Offer
Since Ushahidi was first set up in 2007, the sector of geomapping and crisis mapping has witnessed phenomenal expansion as well as the creation of new tools and platforms to make geomapping more accessible to communities and humanitarian volunteers globally. Below is a snapshot of some popular tools and what they offer:
OpenStreetMap: is a UK-based open source mapping platform that depends on a diverse community of enthusiastic mappers, GIS professionals and humanitarian workers mapping disaster-struck-areas or even their own neighbourhoods. It has over 1.5 million registered users and allows its members to access and edit raw data without restrictions or fees. OpenStreetMap emphasizes the importance of local knowledge in order to get the most accurate maps. It is an editable map. One of it’s best utilizations came right after the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, when in a matter of days hundreds of volunteers from around the world came together and crowdsourced the most detailed map ever produced for Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Before that, Port-au-Prince was only partially mapped on Google Maps, and with very little detail.
The youtube video below is a visualization of the evolution of the OpenStreetMap during a period of 10 days in which more than a million edits were added to the map for Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Geo Bucket and Easy mapper
Geo Bucket and Easy mapper are easy to use mapping tools that can be used by volunteers and communities to gather data. They are geared toward users with very limited mapping skills and no map editing skills. They were both born in Uganda, under the patronage the NGO Fruits of Thought. Both are applications that run on android smart phones (and can be downloaded from the google play android store), but also support uploads of .GPX files. Both applications can also integrate maps seamlessly into OpenStreetMap.
Geo Bucket: is ideal for unmapped locations. It allows its users to map while they walk, by tracking the longitude and latitude of a phone, and mapping roads accordingly as one moves. This information is then uploaded to the Geobucket website where volunteers can use the information to map roads on the OpenStreetMap project.
Easy mapper: puts data directly into OpenStreetMap by focusing on mapping specific categories of things, such as: drinking water/taps, markets, telecommunication towers, book stores, recycling centers, and toilets.
Mapbox: is an open source cloud-based map hosting service and a tool to design maps that are visually appealing, can tell a story and are easily read by non-experts. It is powered by OpenStreetMap, and is collaborative and easy to update by anyone. Mapbox has been used by news agencies and nonprofits to create customized, interactive maps with specific data sets (i.e.: voting results during national elections, environmental issues, aggregation of a population by gender or by age). On the downside, Mapbox does need some cartographic expertise and is hence not suited for direct use by communities with limited mapping skills.
The elva platform
The elva platform: was founded in Georgia and has recently been turned from a project to an NGO. Elva, which means “lighting” or “express message” in the local language, is a mobile phone platform that allows easy feedback from local communities via SMS messages. At first glance it may sound like Ushahidi, but it’s founder says there are fundamental differences that include the following:
- Elva does not focus on short-term crisis, but rather tracks long-term issues such as community needs and measuring the impact of policies on specific communities. It founder; dutch developer, Jonne Catsheok, says that elva is about, “governance and civil monitoring”. For example, the elva platform permits its users to vote using SMS text messaging. The results are then reflected on a visual and interactive map. This has been used for taking national questionnaires on the developmental demands of citizens in Georgia. It is also being used now in other conflict zones, such as Somalia.
- Elva focuses on two-way communication with communities that have low internet penetration. Elva’s SMS format for surveys captures very detailed information from just one SMS. Elva’s utilization included the recruitment of community volunteers who are trained to respond to SMS questionnaires periodically.
- With Elva’s SMS function an online questionnaire can be turned into a step-by-step SMSquestionnaire. The team conducting the questionnaire can advertise a phone number or a shortcode provided by a local telecom company. Those interested in participating in the poll can then text the number, and the system automatically begins a series of questions and responses over SMS, delivering each question in the poll as one SMS.
- Elva has a security and conflict monitoring focus. It has been used to track incidents in conflict zones. It has also been used in conflict prevention by agencies like the UN and the European Union, and by nonprofits. Data collected can be used to analyze trends for early warning systems and the software allows the use of regression analysis to forecast events.
Google crisis map
Google crisis map: are geospatial maps aimed at making information more accessible during disasters; and targeted at those responding to such emergencies as well as those those impacted. It was developed by google’s nonprofit arm, Google Crisis Response team. Since 2008 google has allowed local volunteers to contribute information during crisis to enrich its maps. For example, google maps was used extensively during the Pakistani floods of August 2010 and during Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines in 2013. Since the Haitian earthquake (2010), Google’s Crisis Response team has responded to 25 disasters. Google crisis maps have the capacity to draw information scattered across the web in one place for easy access. It includes the latest satellite images and information such as: flooded areas, shelters for victims and neighbourhoods impacted power outages. The map is easy to view in mobile devices and easy to share on social media and to embed in any website. It also allows data to be imported into it in a number of web-friendly formats.
First Mile Geo
First Mile Geo is a relatively new online, cloud-based platform that generates printed map surveys and provides online tools to collect, analyze and visualize data from polls or surveys that are conducted on the ground with the help of local communities. That information is then geo mapped.
So far First Mile Geo has been successfully used in conflict zones, such as Syria and Somalia. What makes it particularly fitted for such environments is that it is optimized for low bandwidth environments and also allows paper surveys to be entered into the platform. It is therefore well adapted to situations of poor or unreliable internet connectivity.
In Syria, for example First Mile Geo was used to survey citizens in Aleppo on questions that covered: safety, population movement, crime and basic service provision. Mapping this information helped assess humanitarian needs and also allowed the tracking of armed groups, which was important for humanitarian agencies who need to assess the security situation when making decisions.