Ushahidi vs. Managing News is moot. How about a hosted solution?

The excellent MobileActive.org features an article looking at the relative merits of Ushahidi and Managing News. It concludes by noting that,

Use Ushahidi if you need to get set up fast (or remotely), aren’t looking to do extensive customization of the workflow, and have requirements that fit the crisis mapping paradigm of reports that are approved by a human moderator. As for SMS, FrontlineSMS integration will get you started and Clickatell is easy to set up for outgoing messages, but reliability may dictate investigating other options in the long term.

Use Managing News if you’re interested in building a significantly customized system, or have requirements that fit best with a news feeds paradigm. Managing News has been built with a view to being a platform as well as a product, and makes good use of Drupal to do this. SlingshotSMS looks like a good option for a DIY SMS server, and as with Ushahidi, the OpenLayers-based mapping is highly configurable. For slick and beautiful maps, Managing News’ MapBox integration is hard to beat.

It’s a good article, but fails to address yet again the fundamental caveat of both systems from the perspective of most citizen journalists and citizen journalism initiatives – they are very complex to install.

The author notes that,

Once downloaded, both systems should be relatively simple to install. Ushahidi’s instructions (available on the wiki here) are clear and easy to follow, even without much web experience, and there are some links to alternative install instructions too. Managing News assumes a more technical user, so it might be a little more difficult if you aren’t used to reading the instructions several times and googling a word here or there, but it’s certainly not complicated either.

From the perspective of a tech savvy person or journalist, this may well be right. But,

  • What about instructions in languages other than English?
  • What about those who have no idea about a LAMP stack or access to a server? In fact, in over 10 years of interacting with media in Sri Lanka, South Asia and elsewhere, I have not found a single journalist who understands any of the technologies or configuration needed to set up either system.

Pegged to these questions is how applicable these systems are in locales where there is no funding and / or technical expertise to set them up and moreover, to sustain them through technical maintenance. While a large media organisation like Al Jazeera will use Ushahidi and large NGOs will use Managing News, both have access to significant financial and technical resources the majority of citizens and civil society will not. Heck, even I don’t – and my work in using Web 2.0 and ICTs for, inter alia, election monitoring, has eschewed to date the use of any of these platforms simply because they are too difficult to set up and maintain.

The lens of the geek lends itself to a latent technocracy. The thrust seems to be that Ushahidi and Managing News, by virtue of making information accessible, are accessible platforms as well. This is erroneous reasoning, and strongly calls for the great divide between the use of these tools and their actual usefulness needs to be fleshed out in a more honest, robust manner.

A solution could be in the cloud – has anyone at either Ushahidi or Managing News thought about a hosted solution?

Much like WordPress.com (versus self-hosted WordPress) this could make available the power of both platforms without the hassle of setting them up, opening them both to a world of uses that the current models of installation simply cannot engender.

9 comments on “Ushahidi vs. Managing News is moot. How about a hosted solution?

  1. Francesco
    May 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    You raise a very good point… Maybe a suggestion to solve this issue would be to create an “Ushahidi server in a box”, creating a custom Ubuntu (or other linux flavour) USB key with LAMP and Ushahidi preinstalled and configured, so that all one would need is a computer that can boot from USB and an internet connection.

    • Sanjana Hattotuwa
      May 6, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

      Ushahidi on a stick, or in a box approach sounds interesting, and certainly progress from having to install it oneself. What the cloud offers however is scalability, possibly greater reliability and a plug-in / add-on / extensible eco-system, such as we have seen with WP. Of course, the solution can be a mix of both – thin client connecting to cloud services.

  2. Francesco
    May 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Well… obviously another option is a “hosted” Ushahidi service in the cloud that one can setup via a webinterface just like you do with wp.com: the problem there is that someone would have to pick up the bill, and if you give it away for free then you need to have a system to quickly identify who has the right to use the system (as opposed to people who just want to play with it…).

    Expanding the idea of the Ushahidi stick, one could obviously preload and setup a bunch of other softwares that are useful in this kind of scenarios, like FrontlineSMS and so on, and maybe also include drivers to use a cellphone as a modem.

  3. Erik
    May 6, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Patience grasshopper…🙂

    • Francesco
      May 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

      heheh… Erik, I am sure you guys are already working on something like that😉
      An “Ushahidi cloud” service would be seriously cool btw🙂

    • Sanjana Hattotuwa
      May 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

      Highly overrated, sensei.

  4. Bonnie Bogle
    May 6, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    While there are some great hosted Managing News services, like the one by the folks at http://omega8.cc/mnews to name just one, we don’t see Managing News becoming a full blown hosted service – at least not one managed by our team. Our investment priorities are focused on making it a strong base platform that you can customize.

  5. Tyler Renelle
    May 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    We Drupalistas are a do-gooder lot. We had a few BOF session (developer get-togethers) at Drupalcon San Francisco on how the platform can be used in crisis-mapping ala the Haiti crisis — which included a large discussion on Ushahidi. The point is: in the interim of a hosted Managing News solution, I guarantee that developers would step up to volunteer some of their own hosting bandwidth & complex MN setup for elections/crisis-mapping. It’s good that you point it out — the need for a hosted, or accessible, mapping solution. But yall are not without hope, what with these systems being so new, and with developers wanting so bad to make a difference. As Erik said, “Patience Grasshopper”🙂

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