The purpose of the CrowdGlobe project is to study various crowdsourced-mapping platforms, searching for data patterns that can tell us more about the functions of these tools and their limits as well as potentials. The CrowdGlobe.net website is an integral part of the CrowdGlobe project, providing researchers with additional case studies, meta-level datasets and analysis. CrowdGlobe is strictly platform agnostic and seeks to analyze all crowdsourced mapping technologies.
For this, its first case study, CrowdGlobe has analyzed Ushahidi and Crowdmap data as well as these platforms’ user base. The Ushahidi platform, which means, “witness” in Swahili, is a free and open source tool that integrates information collection features with a live map. Ushahidi, the company, subsequently launched Crowdmap, a hosted version of the Ushahidi platform, which is easier to use since downloading the software and installing it is not necessary. When the CrowdGlobe research project was launched in October 2011, a total of 12,795 Crowdmaps had been created in over 100 countries. This presented CrowdGlobe researchers with an ideal first usecase for the project. The aim of this first report is to develop a better understanding of how Crowdmap (and Ushahidi) have been used and to analyze the data they have generated over recent years.
Our work took advantage of statistical analysis, quantitative content analysis and exploratory surveys. The quantitative analysis revealed that 93% of the 12,000+ Crowdmaps analyzed had fewer than 10 reports while 61% of Crowdmaps were identical to the default Crowdmap setting, i.e., they had not been customized or used at all. This “long tail” distribu- tion of Crowdmaps follows a power law distribution, a common feature in many online platforms, as well as in a number of occurring phenomena. Crowdmaps with 21 to 10,000 reports were selected for further analysis, resulting in a data set of 585 maps. About 30% of these focused on North America while 18% focused on Western Europe and 16% on Africa. On aver- age, these Crowdmaps had 814 reports but the median number of reports for this set of deployments was substantially lower, which is not surprising considering that Crowdmaps follow a power law distribution. When the analysis is broken down by region, the relative frequency with which themes emerged in the regional deployments differed dramatically.
The findings from the quantitative analysis and surveys provide the first evidence-based analysis of crowdsourced data of its kind. In addition, the results supply actionable feedback to Ushahidi software developers on what they can do to improve their platforms and substantially increase the number of Crowdmaps that gain more traction and possibly greater impact. It should be noted that since this research over half- a-year ago Ushahidi Inc. has already been implementing a number of important changes including a set-up wizard, a wiki for Ushahidi users, and a review of the Crowdmap. In sum, this report provides an important baseline study and indeed the only one of its kind which could serve as an important comparison if this research is replicated in the coming years.
As we assess the growth and impact of Ushahidi in general and crowdsourcing in particular we should keep in mind that we are still at the very start of a transformative process. There is plenty more to do and learn before we can draw any firm conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis impact. Crowdmap, for example, is barely a year-and-a-half old, which means that users are still very much in the pioneering and discovery phase. Recall Clay Shirky’s point that “technology only becomes socially interesting when it becomes technologically boring.” This explains why the CrowdGlobe Project is intended to launch the means of an ongoing assessment of where we are now and what we can expect in the future hence the interactive CrowdGlobe.net portal. This is not the final statement about crowdsourcing and Ushahidi. It is the opening statement of a new field of inquiry and civic action.