Crossroads

At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Internet and Development

Anand Giridharadas, a columnist for the NY Times wrote about the shake-up that the "user generated content" is creating in the developing countries:

"After Kenya’s disputed election in 2007, violence erupted. A prominent Kenyan lawyer and blogger, Ory Okolloh, who was based in South Africa but had returned to Kenya to vote and observe the election, received threats about her work and decided to return to South Africa. She posted online the idea of an Internet mapping tool to allow people anonymously to report violence and other misdeeds. Some technology whizzes saw her post and built the Ushahidi Web platform over a long weekend.

The site collected user-generated reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes and deaths. It collected more testimony — which is what ushahidi means in Swahili — with greater rapidity than any journalist or election monitor could. Ushahidi had found a quintessentially 21st-century way of bearing witness.

When the Haitian earthquake struck, Ushahidi went again into action. An emergency texting number, 4636, was advertised over the country’s radio waves. Ushahidi received thousands of text messages reporting the location of trapped bodies. The messages were translated by a diffuse army of Haitian-Americans in the United States and each was plotted on a “crisis map.”

Ushahidi volunteers at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts, ran a situation room from which they instant-messaged with the U.S. Coast Guard in Haiti, telling them where to search for lives. When the Chilean earthquake struck, Ushahidi redeployed again....

Ushahidi also represents a new frontier of innovation. Silicon Valley has long been the reigning paradigm of innovation, with its ecosystem of universities, financiers, mentors, immigrants and robust patents. Ushahidi comes from another world, in which entrepreneurship is born of hardship and innovators focus on doing more with less rather than on selling you new and improved stuff. And so bright people from Nairobi and New Delhi and Nanjing can today take their place at the leading edge of industries from cellphones to banking to car making."




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