[Map Monday] How did Joburg’s Weltevredenpark become the second most prolific area on Ushahidi?

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Here’s an odd one for you: the world famous crisis mapping web app, Ushahidi, has developed an overview map so that you can see where people are using it to track events. And it turns out that in the last 12 months the second most popular place to post from is a Johannesburg suburb in the West Rand.

Ushahidi, an open source app which was developed for tracking post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, is a phenomenonal tool which helped to change the world’s perceptions of African tech. Developed by the team largely responsible for Nairobi’s iHub workshop, Ushahidi allows people to tag locations and events using the web or SMS, and so builds an evolving map of things going on. It’s been used by NGOs in numerous disaster zones to help find survivors, to source blood donors in the wake of the Westgate Mall killings, to report corruption, deployed for wildlife conservations and more.

Reports on Ushahidi, 2010-2015.
Reports on Ushahidi, 2010-2015.

The Ushahidi Tracker, which can be found here, is an interactive map designed for exploring data submitted to Ushahidi-powered projects.

“We aren’t sure if we are visualizing all reports coming out of Ushahidi instances,” says the organisation’s Vaibhav Bhawsar, “Because many instances may not be sharing data with us or they may just not be accessible. Also, all this data is from self-installed instances and not from .com.”

Self-installed instances of Ushahidi publish all data openly to the main site by default, says Bhawsar, but since users can turn that feature off, one can’t be sure how many people are using it at any one time.

Maps which do generate a lot of public datapoints include the Nepal Monitor, set up to help disaster relief following the devastating earthquake earlier this year, and a Palestine Crisis Map. Most reports are logged as originating from the United States, where community groups have adopted the tool and mand aid efforts are co-ordinated, but if you move the sliders on the tracker to show reports from the last year only, a name familiar to few appears in the number two spot: Weltevredenpark.

Greg Pearce of Community Support Services, a small neighbourhood private security firm in the area, was using Ushahidi to log incidents of criminal behaviour in the area. Some 829 reports were filed into a crime map over a five year period ranged from house breaking to murder, pushing Weltevredenpark to the ranks of the most prolific users on the platform.

Usage of Ushahidi around north-west Joburg.
Usage of Ushahidi around north-west Joburg.

What’s even more remarkable is that Pearce says the map wasn’t really designed to alert residents in the area to crime alerts. Rather he and his team maintained it for plotting events to keep track of them internally.

Sadly, as a result of this and the fact that other tools are better suited for internal logging, the Weltevredenpark map is no longer maintained and the last entry was made in June. While it’s entirely feasible that someone could resurrect it, Pearce is now keeping track of hotspots in a desktop spreadsheet package.

But there’s a small, and highly significant part of the internet that will be testimony to the power

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.

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