A month ago I was in Egypt: I was working with the Development and Institutionalization Support Center and the Egyptian Democratic Academy (EDA) in setting up a Ushahidi platform to monitor the incoming parliamentary elections in the country. The project is called U-Shahid and it is organized upon a very structured system divided by regions, with teams of mappers, verificators, reporters and a core team of bloggers that manage the platform.
A week ago another Ushahidi project about election came out, this time run by the Muslim Brotherhood and called Shahid 2010. Their platform is focused on monitoring harassment from the Government to the Muslim Brotherhood candidates or affiliates related to the incoming elections.
Another platform, this time run by the Independent Coalition for Election Observation, called “Control of the Egyptian parliamentary elections 2010” has been set up on Crowdmap., which also has a specific category on women.
Also on Crowdmap is another Ushahidi platform, which will monitor the elections, this time run by the The Egyptian Association For Community participation Enhancement (EACPE), member in the Independent Coalition for Election Observation, monitoring the Legislative Elections 2010.
A fifth map on the Egyptian elections is the Abu Balash map, a voluntary Initiative of a group of Egyptian bloggers.
Now, I have to say: of course, this sound a bit ridiculous, 5 interactive maps to monitor the same event. I started laughing when I heard about it the first time. But lets’ be honest: THIS IS A GREAT THING!!!
In a country like Egypt, where election monitoring is not exactly the most common action taken, and where lots of activists and young people use Facebook, Twitter and Internet in general, the fact that there are many platforms is an awesome achievment!! Egyptians will not have one, but 5 different means to report, and in this way the government is not only going to deal with the U-Shahid project but they have to deal with 5 platforms that will challenge their propaganda and their media control.
The idea that there is an Intellectual Property right violated, or that the existence of those platforms can endanger the electoral monitoring is simply stupid. Ushahidi is an open source tool, you download it, and you use it the way you want. This is the main principle of the tool: Ushahidi Inc. created this tool to make it available to everybody to be able to have their voices heard, to allow for sharing of information. If people have some doubts please read the Ushahidi website: “Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories”.
People that use the Ushahidi platform can do it first of all because Ushahidi is a free and open source software, it doesn’t cost anything and in addition to that it provides all (or the majority at least) of the information they need on their public WIKI, on their Blog and on the public repository in GitHub. Ushahidi is based in data sharing, and if you use the Ushahidi platform than you cannot ask or think that the principle of open source free software applies only to you.
The fact that there are 5 Ushahidi platforms it is not “a crisis of the ushahidizing of election monitoring”, it is the ultimate celebration of the success of the principles the Ushahidi platform is based on: free, open source and democratizing!!!!
The 5 Ushahidi platforms in addition to that could be linked, and I really hope that the owners of those platforms will do it: it is easy and it can be done by using the API to feed data from one platform to another one. If the people managing those platform will share their information with each other then they will show that they actually understand what is the tool that they are using.
But despite that, there is no need to decide which platform is the REAL one, or the BEST one, or the FIRST one: those platforms are all collecting data related to the elections, and the more info they collect the better it is for the goal of providing a good coverage of the elections.
FOSS are about data sharing. You get it or you don’t. If you don’t, you can always decide to buy an expensive software, hire someone that install it for you, or pay a monthly fee to the producer to have it up and running for you. But don’t ask the to FOSS to work only for you, or to the people that work their asses off to create FOSS to then limit their uses: they may listen to you, and you will end up paying 1000$ fee every year to have your Ushahidi platform up and running.