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Quick, Stop All Ushahidi Deployments in Egypt!

Somebody stop this proliferation before things really gets out of control. This is ridiculous, who knows what could happen!

by Patrick Meier On December 8, 2010

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Has the world gone crazy? There are now at least five Ushahidi deployments in Egypt. Somebody stop this proliferation before things really gets out of control. This is ridiculous, who knows what could happen!

Oh how I long for the days of  expensive, proprietary software that prevented the widespread use of commercial platforms by the unwashed masses. Life was good back then, and simple. Only external organizations with millions of dollars of funding could monitor elections. Centralized, top-down hierarchical control was such a blessing. You’d think that those using Ushahidi in Egypt would at least make their deployments password protected. But no, they have the nerve to share their data publicly. The nerve.

Someone please force these groups to use one (and only one) platform and to use a password. In fact, people should be required to apply for permission to use an Ushahidi platform by completing a 10-page form, providing 5 references along with a financial statement for the past 3 years. They should also sign a binding contract that obliges them not to share any data publicly. The golden rule should be one platform per country per year. All this needs to be controlled. Seriously, don’t people understand the consequences of democratizing tools for trans-parency and accountability?

Just look at what’s happening in Eygpt. Ushahidi was never used in the country before the lead up to the country’s Parliamentary Elections. But now, because the platform is both free and open source, no fewer than 5 different groups have decided to add more transparency to the elections. How irresponsible is that? I mean, this is only going to give people more ideas on how to hold their government accountable in the future.

Indeed, there may end up being twice as many platforms during the Presidential Elections next year as a result. And then what? This will just make each platform weaker since the data will be split across platforms. (Down with open data!). Don’t people understand that they can’t just do whatever they want? (Down with more choices!). Doesn’t anyone care about our rules anymore? The masses need to listen to us and do as we say. Oh how I do miss the good old days. Sigh.

This careless proliferation of Ushahidi platforms in Egypt will only add more data (down with more data!), which means even more monitoring of the government’s actions during the elections (down with transparency!). The first Ushahidi platform that was launched already has 351 mapped reports and the other four platforms have already mapped a total of 461 reports. This is terrible. The additional data means that triangulating some reports may be possible, either manually or by using Swift River.

This needless proliferation also means that many more issues will be monitored. At least the first Ushahidi platform that was launched didn’t have a specific category on women. But the platform launched by the Independent Coalition for Election Observation includes a category on women. And that platform is only in Arabic! Don’t people understand that election monitoring is supposed to be for English-speaking outsiders, i.e., the West?

It gets worse. The Muslim Brotherhood is also using the platform to create more transparency around the elections. As the screenshot below reveals, they even have the audacity to monitor and map assaults on journalists, observers and human rights organizations. This is worse than blogging. But don’t get me started on blogs. The fact that anyone can blog is a travesty and an assault on everything we hold holly. The printing press? Don’t even go there.

Crisis Mapper Anahi Ayala Iacucci clearly disagrees with me in her blog post on this topic. She writes that the whole point of Ushahidi is “to make it available to everybody to be able to have their voices heard, to allow for sharing of information. If people have some doubts please read the Ushahidi website: ‘Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.’”

Again, has the world gone crazy? My ultimate nightmare, however, are APIs andRSS feeds. These allow data from different Ushahidi platforms to be easily shared. Just look at the screenshot below and you’ll understand my concerns. I was able to create one list of all reports simply by cutting and pasting the five website links into my Google Reader. This link will take you to a public website with one list of integrated reports from all five platforms updated in real-time. If you’d like to add this to your own Google Reader, use this Atom Feed.

And if this isn’t disturbing enough, people can actually subscribe to automated email alerts of incoming reports based on specific areas of interest. I also hear a rumor that each Ushahidi platform comes with a unique key and that swapping keys allows for the automatic sharing of data between two or more Ushahidi platforms. Networked Ushahidi platforms. The nerve. Maybe the Egyptian government will be able to crack down on these platforms and curb this proliferation of transparency. After all, the US government has already invested billions of dollars to keep this repressive regime in power.

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This  article  originally appeared on iRevolution

Photo Credits: Flickr CC whiteafrican

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