The Documentalist

Archiving Crisis Information Submitted by Cell Phones

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on December 17, 2009

I am in the process of writing an article about a platform called Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”) that will appear here shortly.  This platform allows organizations to map crises by having people “on the ground” submit SMS messages, cell phone video, and photos to an on-line instance that maps reported events on an interactive map.  While I work on that report , here is an example of what the Ushahidi platform produces.


Ushahidi Map of 2008 post-election violence in Kenya (image courtesy of

Ushahidi Map of 2008 post-election violence in Kenya (image courtesy of

Crisis Map of Kenya’s 2008 Post Election Violence

On December 27, 2007 Kenya’s incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner of that day’s presidential election.  However, supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement’s candidate, Raila Odinga, contested this decision, claiming election fraud.  According to a New York Times article from January 17, 2008, election observers reported that the election was rigged at the last minute to ensure the incumbent’s victory. In response to Kibaki’s swearing-in in January, 2008, violence erupted across Kenya.  At first the violence was related to protests held by Odinga supporters, but it quickly morphed into targeted ethnic violence against the Kikuyu people.  All told, in January of 2008, approximately 1000 people died and around 600,000 people were displaced.

In response to this situation, Ory Okohllo (a graduate of Harvard Law from Kenya), launched Ushahidi–a platform for tracking events as they unfurled in Kenya (this platform will be described in more detail in a future post).  The platform allows citizens who participate in, witness, or become victims of events to post information via SMS to the Ushahidi platform, which then publishes the information and locates the event on a Google map in near real-time (click on the image above to interact with this map).    Over the course of several months, hundreds of text messages, videos, and photographs were submitted to the nascent platform–largely via cell phones–and all of them have been archived here for future research use, along with the interactive map that was created from information.

Ushahidi map for Aljazeera's "War on Gaza" site (image courtesy of

Gaza Crisis Map: Aljazeera’s Archived Ushahidi Data

Another example of the sorts of data archived in the Ushahidi platform can be found at the War on Gaza webpage hosted by Aljazeera.  This instance of the platform is more fully developed that the platform launched in Kenya and has been operating since October 2008.  All of the collected SMS messages, images and videos are available on the front page of the site, alongside of the Gaza crisis map that this information populates.  If you click on the map to the right, you will be taken to the live map at the War on Gaza site.  As you click on each of the red indicators on the map, links to associated information become available.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by digitalassetman, Sarah Van Deusen . Sarah Van Deusen said: Archiving crisis information created on cell phones: […]

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