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.