Posts Tagged ‘ushahidi’

Ushahidi: I couldn’t help it

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

I really enjoyed reading Haklay and Tobon’s (2003) article on PPGIS because it examines concepts that I can relate with my term project. The authors believe in information contributed by non-expert users in a constraint free environment; away from the office, possibly work, in your own personal space, or on the go. A decade after this article was written, mobile phones, especially smartphone apps, allow a user to both contribute and interact with non-expert generated information. I believe an ultimate PPGIS synergy has been created by linking FOSS together, in particular Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap, to represent geographic data contributed by non-expert users; on an online platform where you can text, email or Tweet information that you can then view interactively, on an OpenStreetMap interface.

User-centered design, development and deployment, and geovisualization are all critical components to a successful, efficient and usable platform. From the end-user perspective, these are all achieved. However, feelings may be mixed for developers. It is one thing to be able to send a text, Tweet, or email to a platform and interact with it, and another to use it as a template, activate, and maintain that platform. As much as these platforms are user-friendly, when will they become developer friendly? By developer I don’t mean a computer programmer, or a developer that is comfortable with coding, but someone who is new to it all but wants to learn; the non-expert of developers. Given all of this, I wonder what the authors would say of Ushahidi now. I believe in a constant need for improvement of open-source platforms, to strengthen the world of PPGIS. As difficult as the building process of the Ushahidi template can be for a newbie developer, I am astounded by the impact it has had and continues to have on the world of non-expert users.

-henry miller


Temporal geographic information: a work in progress

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The importance of time in Geography has become more relevant for me as I began working on my research project. It was helpful to read Langran and Chrisman’s (1988) article. In a way I was comforted to relate to some of the issues with regards to dealing with time, but at the same time felt discomfort that these issues are still around. We live in a digital geographic world, as sah mentioned in their post. Andrew stated PPGIS and HCI display the issues that arise when using Google applications. Currently dealing with the LBS and open-source world where everything is rapidly changing, new versions of software quickly replacing the old, past problems quickly become obsolete. However, I have learned from this article that time, like other fundamental concepts in Geography, is different. It is still a timely (no pun intended) issue. So how do we go about dealing with mapping time, along with theme and location (1)? Although still in its early stages, the Ushahidi platform may fulfill the requirement of being “a temporal database that makes the time dimension accessible to users” in  the example give by the Ghana Waters initiative (2).

The space-time composite section reminded me of the problem of overlaying a polygon layer created in ArcMap. For example, a geographer decided to represent suburbs of a city by digitally drawing polygons. If they want to display this as a choropleth map, displaying crimes throughout the city, they can do so. However, over time, the boundaries of suburbs may change, thus a new layer must be created to ensure timely accuracy of the theme and space that is represented. I believe the advantage of having Google Earth now, as opposed to 1988, is that we can integrate conventional software databases like ArcGIS with user-friendly, interactive virtual globes to try and solve time related problems. Altering between suburb overlay choropleths from one time period to another can be done by checking a box. Creating a time-lapse animation could be a possible solution to static images that “do not represent the events that change one state to the next” (8). It’s still a work in progress, however, the less constraints we have when dealing with more philosophical and abstract concepts such as time (and ofcourse, ontologies), the better.

-henry miller

livestock in Kenya aided by remote sensing and cellphones

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Imagine being a livestock herder, subsisting in a small community south of Nairobi in Kenya. Drought is a cyclical phenomenon in your grassland environment, and whenever it hits, you might come across a zebra carcass, or weep at the loss of one of your own cattle. One of the largest repercussions begins the moment drought becomes pervasive; everyone starts trying to sell animals before they die, and the price for livestock plummets. This is potentially the original meaning of the “stock” market, and the large investment you made in your animals over time is now nearly worthless. Frustrated, you wish you had sold your animals earlier, just before the drought when the price was normal.

The technology of remote sensing actually has large repercussions for communities such as yours, because of its capacity to observe large-scale trends and extrapolate into the future. Data collected by satellite avoids the high cost of groundwork in such large areas, and can provide global climate information that is not otherwise evident to people on the ground. Many researchers have extolled the virtues of remote-sensing operations for predicting drought and enabling mitigation strategies by those who would otherwise be adversely affected, and advocate for local policy-makers to institute this technology.

Hearing this, as a member of the local community, you might wonder how you will receive such information. You are aware that your tribe has extensive methods for predicting droughts, but feel open to the idea of reinforcing your predictions based on remote sensing data. However, you are not regularly in touch with the Internet. The families of your tribe are located at great distances throughout the landscape so it is difficult to approach everyone at once. Here, again, geospatial communications technologies can serve their own purposes! All the adults you know have a cell phone (even if they don’t read), and everyone can be connected to a larger network of information dissemination almost instantly. This type of alert has been proposed for fires in South Africa, and could revolutionize your access to drought early-warning systems. If everyone who was interested was able to register their phone number at the outset, information could be transmitted easily and quickly around the area, in a fashion timely enough for people to hedge their bets on when to sell their animals and prepare for a coming drought. Indeed, a relatively easy-to-use cell phone alert platform has been developed for crisis situations in developing countries. It is thought-provoking to anticipate that the food insecurity pervasive in the current Kenyan drought could be potentially mitigated.

Thanks to EC, Intro to GIS, for the post