Mapping, visualization and information management: which does what

Someone asked me about tools that I mention in my previous post, referring to their potential use as alternative to Ushahidi or in addition to Ushahidi, depending on the goal of the project.

Here there is a list of what I had in mind, but it is definitely not exhaustive. Some of those software are good for mapping, some for visualization of data and some for information management and collection.

Google Maps and Google Earth. I used mostly those two tools when working on Ushahidi. You can create your own maps using Google Map, and both of them are pretty easy and you can upload geo-located information, add comments, pictures and videos as in Ushahidi. You can also those tools to create KML files to be use in Ushahidi as static layers if you need to. Google Earth has great layers that can be used one on the top of the other and that allow you to plug your own layer on the top of the map. Google Map is simple and easy to use. Google Earth require to download the software and a bit more of work, but overall those two maps are a very good alternative to Ushahidi as well as are a necessary tool when using Ushahidi.

OpenStreet Maps. OpenStreet Map is just really cool. It allows everyone to contribute to the development of a map on line and it has very active and strong community contributing form all over the world. It can work at a more sophisticated level by allowing the upload of GPS coordinates or download it, or at a simpler level by allowing people to manually plug in street, names and locations. If you don’t have map for your project, Open Street is the way to go!

RapidSMS. I personally really like this software. It is a free open-course tool for dynamic data collection, logistics coordination and communication, using SMS technology. So far RapidSMS has been customized and deployed with diverse functionality: remote health diagnostics, nutrition surveillance, supply chain tracking, registering children in public health campaigns, and community discussion. The software is now also provided with a mapping system that is still pretty basic but is promising. It would very interesting to see how RapidSMS works with Ushahidi. 🙂

FrontlineSMS. Frontline is a free open source tool. It needs only a laptop computer and a mobile phone or modem to work as a two-way group messaging hub and since it works anywhere there’s a mobile signal, it doesn’t need the Internet, and it allows to send messages to wide groups of people, and to collect responses all via text message. The new version has been released couple of days ago, and it allows also to respond to messages by sending replies to predefined groups of numbers and to analyze the responses.

Palantir. I don’t know too much about this tool. I know it has now two platforms for integrating, visualizing, and analyzing information. The software support many kinds of data including structured, unstructured, relational, temporal, and geospatial and provide real analysis with a focus on security, scalability and collaboration.  Unfortunately it is not a free, but if you have a good budget and your project focus on security and governmental stuff, it is definitely worth to try it.

GapMinder. Gapminder is a non-profit venture that developed the Trendalyzer software, which transforms statistics into animated and interactive graphics. The tool is really useful to visualize connections and relationships between different variables in relation to their location, even if it doesn’t have a mapping system. The main advantage is that it allow for long-term visualization of correlation between indicators and countries in the same time.

Insteed. I particularly like two tools that Insteed has developed and that I personally find incredibly useful. One is GeoChat, a unified mobile communications service designed specifically to enable self-organizing group communications. The service lets mobile phone users broadcast location-based alerts, report on their situation, and coordinate around events on a map. The second one is Mesh4X, an adaptive data integration platform designed to allow information to flow between established applications (like Excel, Access and GoogleEarth), and between devices (laptops, smartphones and servers) in a distributed “data mesh”. Mesh4X can also synchronize data over a stream of SMS messages, just by plugging an ordinary cellphone into a laptop. Both tools are pretty intuitive, but require good internet connection and some practice.

Sahanna. The Sahana project aims to provide an integrated set of pluggable, Web-based disaster management applications that provide solutions to large-scale humanitarian problems in the relief phase of a disaster. Sahana currently has three projects and 7 modules that address common disaster coordination and collaboration problems, from the Missing Person Registry to the Volunteer coordination system. Sahanna also includes features for synchronization between multiple instances, allowing for responders to capture data in the field and exchange it with other. Overall it is a great tool for the organization of the information and the management of a project.

Again this is definitely not an exhaustive list, so feel free to let me know about other interesting tools to be used for information crowd-sourcing, management, collection and sharing, and visualization. From my part, I will keep looking for new interesting software and platforms out there!.

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