Generally speaking, advances in technology have not only allowed us to streamline existing processes but have also caused us to radically reconsider traditional modes of operation. As individuals and societies become increasingly familiar with technology, and its use becomes seamlessly integrated into everyday life, room for striking innovation develops. In particular, mobile-based applications represent an area with interesting implications for growth.
In response to Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008, an organization called Ushahidi developed a simple cross-platform tool that would allow citizens to report incidents of intimidation as they happened via text/picture message or the Internet. By focusing on mobile phone technology, developers tapped into the most pervasive technology available in the developing country; mobile phones also provided additional elements such as ease of access and location-specific crowdsourced data. Amazingly, Ushahidi developed a simple open-source tool that aggregated reports of incidents and displayed them on a Google map—the genius was not necessarily in this mash up, although visualization allowed for new ways to understand the problems plaguing the country, but in the idea that this program could be employed anywhere for almost any type of crisis situation from monitoring swine flu to the recent Haitian earthquake.
Ushahidi, much like Twitter, has an advantage in that it represents a bottom-up model of information integration and reports come directly from the people being affected; institutions such as Ushahidi give people a voice, especially when the presiding government cannot be trusted. However, Ushahidi is not a success story merely because it has developed a new method to present knowledge, but because it has also allowed individuals to create a new system for manipulating it. Ushahidi has empowered citizens to become active participants in their communities and taught individuals how to leverage information in order to affect social, political, or economic change.