Strong Angel III – SMS, MMS, Google Maps mashups

Strong Angel III was a melting pot of mash-ups – social networking, GIS and mobile devices, cross-platform data transports, volunteer registration and GIS – the list was seemingly endless. One demonstration that particularly struck me was one from Mitre – that I hope they continue to develop – which plotted on a GIS map the locations of mobiles and associated metadata and images. This is precisely what is needed for communities that are cut off from the mainstream media’s gaze, as is happening in Sri Lanka today – where thousands in the North and the East are without means to express their opinions on the heightened instability in the region and the deteriorating human security conditions.

I’m not too sure that Mitre’s solution will be made available free (or very heavily subsidised) for peace-building and humanitarian aid, but this is another cutting-edge implementation of mobile phone technology along the lines of what I had blogged earlier from SA III, that brings together technology that is already in many peoples hands and pushes it to the web so that it can be consumed by those deeply interested in ascertaining a view from the ground and perspectives beyond the propaganda in mainstream media.

One interesting off-shoot of Mitre’s solution is that the veracity of the information is enhanced by the use of photos and videos. Over a period of time, the potential of this technology can bear witness, in an extremely powerful way, to issues like human rights corruption, corruption, extortion, bureaucratic bias etc. I see this as a natural evolution of websites such as Witness and initiatives such as this one conducted by Amnesty International-Netherlands:

Golden Misabiko, a journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was arrested and imprisoned without any charge in January 2001. It was feared he would be tortured. Amnesty International sent out an Urgent Action to members all over the world. We, at the Dutch section, sent out a text message to 8,000 cell-phone users in the Netherlands who participate in our new text-message alert network. Within 48 hours we sent a protest fax with thousands of signatures to the authorities in the DRC. Golden was released in May 2001. He had not been tortured. Golden wrote to Amnesty, “When I heard in prison that Amnesty campaigned for my release I knew: Je vais sortir (I will be released).” And so it happened.

Rather than think of Citizen Media only as a text based initiative, mash-ups that match SMS location data with MMS / SMS messages onto a map, allowing users to browse through locations and messages related to that location, but also see an interactive timeline of the development of message clusters on a map, would have tremendous applications in mapping violence, confidence in peace, IDP movements and a whole raft of other issues.

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