It’s the second annual Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging established by my wife Suw Charman-Anderson, to highlight the contributions of woman in science and technology. Last year, I paid tribute to Suw, and I’d like to pause and pay tribute to her again. Last year being the first year, the day got a lot of attention. She set a target that seemed impossibly high, a thousand people, and she easily met the target. This year, she set the target of 3072, and she’s had to work much harder. I’m so proud of her perseverance. You can see a map of all of the people from around the world who have blogged today. Someday, I hope (well, actually I’m pretty confident) that a woman in science and technology will come up to Suw and say that Ada Lovelace Day inspired them to pursue a career in science and technology.
However, I thought that to fulfill my pledge that I need to write about another woman or women in technology this year, and I’ve decided to write about Ory Okolloh and Juliana Rotich. (I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Juliana just a couple of weeks ago for the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast. I wear a necklace. She asked, “Is that pi?” No, it’s ogham, an ancient alphabet. It means oak.” I said. She replied, “When a geek asks you, you should just say it’s pi,” she responded.)
Ushahidi, which means witness or testimony in Swahili, was born out of the post-election violence in Kenya in early 2008. Ory had been collecting reports of violence at Kenyan Pundit, but she soon found the effort needed something else so she put a call out to fellow bloggers and developers in Kenya. Erik Hersman, Juliana and David Kobia all answered the call. Over a long weekend, using the Kohana web framework, they had built Ushahidi and were taking in reports via email, a web form and SMS. The platform has since been used to monitor elections in India, Mexico, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Recently, using the excellent Frontline SMS tool, CrowdFlower to help with translation and a distributed, but very focused, volunteer effort, they launched a Ushahidi project to help people in Haiti get the services they needed in the wake of the devastating earthquake. Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap, Frontline SMS and other services are now playing a huge role in post-disaster response. When tragedy strikes, crisis camps of developers around the world come together to set up tools that help speed aid to where it’s needed most.
The New York Times recently called Ushahidi, Africa’s gift to Silicon Valley and wrote:
This kind of everyone-as-informant mapping is shaking up the world, bringing the Wikipedia revolution to the work of humanitarians and soldiers who parachute into places with little good information.
Ory and Juliana haven’t just helped launch a tool, they have been instrumental in helping move forward a movement to use techn0logy to improve disaster relief and reporting that began after other earlier disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami.