Announcing Ushahidi 2.0 (Luanda) by David Kobia

We’re extremely pleased to finally announce version 2.0 (Luanda) of the Ushahidi platform. This release marks the end of many months of work on new functionality and bug fixes based on feedback we’ve received.

Highlights of Ushahidi 2.0

1. Plugins

plugins

The plugin system is something we’ve been working on for many months now, and we talked about it briefly back in July. This system allows us to do two things; First, it allows anyone to extend the capabilities of the platform. Second it allows us to focus on the core application itself. For the past few months, our community has been building plugins that you will soon be able to take advantage of via an Ushahidi App Market. In the meantime here are some resources to let you take advantage of this new functionality:

2. New and Improved API

Henry and Emmanuel have been working hard on the Ushahidi API which exposes the platform to 3rd party applications that you create. This API allows you to post or retrieve information from Ushahidi deployments. This in fact is how our Mobile applications (iPhone, Android, j2me) communicate with the platform. Our goal is to give you as many ways as possible to consume the data that Ushahidi deployments create. More information about the Plugin API can be found here. We hope you find new and interesting ways to use it. Soon, you’ll be able to administer Ushahidi deployments through 3rd party applications via an Admin API.

3. One-Click Upgrades (Beta)

Screen Shot 2010-11-18 at 4.39.27 PM

Ushahidi deployments have been notoriously difficult to upgrade. You can now exhale, because we have been working hard at a one-click upgrade mechanism, so that you can upgrade to the latest version without losing some hair. We’re still working out some kinks though, but its closer to 100% done. The system will alert you to new version availability and give you the option to perform the one-click upgrade. Please note that the one-click upgrade will only be available for users of version 2.0. If you have an older version of platform, you will need to update your deployment to version 2.0 manually. Instructions on how to do this are on this wiki entry. Once updated, you will be able to use the one-click upgrade mechanism for future versions.

4. Improved Localization

With the platform’s continued use around the world in countries that speak anything other than English, it is increasingly important to quickly and easily localize the language used on the deployment. We now have a location on the web (Thanks to Brian) where you can help localize language packs for use on your deployment of the platform. Already, many languages have been added and the list of available languages continues to grow. Head over to Tafsiri (Swahili for translate) to get started.

5. SMS Providers

Version 2.0 of the platform now allows you to add other SMS providers into the system via the Plugin API. The platform ships with FrontlineSMS, Clickatell and now SMSSync. SMS providers either provide a mechanism for filtering text messages into the system and/or sending messages from the system.

6. Trusted Reporter Functionality

trusted

Popular deployments are sometimes inundated by reports and it becomes increasingly difficult for administrators to read through and approve incoming messages. With Ushahidi 2.0, it is now possible to tag certain phone numbers, email accounts or twitter users as ‘Trusted Reporters’ and their reports will be automatically approved by the system.

7. Improved Theming

With previous versions of the platform, theming was restricted to what you could achieve with CSS styles alone. In Ushahidi 2.0, you can now create new templates and change the structure of pages, allowing you to design completely new looks. The additional benefit is that you never have to tamper with the core code like you had to before.

8. Improved Reports Listing

Caleb has also been hard at work on the reports listing page. We’re trying to make this page as functional as possible and will continue to do so, so that we can convey different sets of information quickly and in a practical way.

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9. Improved Reports Detail
The reports detail page has also been updated. You can go for wider or taller maps. You can also switch tabs to view images and other attached media.

report

10. Improved Scheduler

scheduler

Certain tasks with the platform are executed at specified intervals like checking email, checking twitter, sending alerts etc. The improved scheduler allows you to set the frequency of such events.

11. Improved Caching and Speed

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Moving forward we’ll begin to add some options for administrators to help optimize the loading of the platform. This is especially critical for high traffic deployments.

 

 

There are numerous other fixes and improvements and we hope you enjoy the hard work we’ve put in so far. As always we can’t ever get enough feedback so we’ll be waiting to hear from you!

We’ll also be going into detail in the next few blog posts about how to use some of the features I’ve mentioned above.

Overcoming the Challenges of Using Ushahidi in Low Bandwidth Areas by Juliana Rotich

With the increased adoption of Ushahidi around the world, we are finding that one problem (which we anticipated in the very beginning of the initiative) is that of low bandwidth regions. In the early days of testing the platform in Kenya, we found that the map would take ages to load, and so the development team worked very hard to change this. This was of course before the installation of fiber optic links in Kenya, which make connection speeds much better after September 2009.

Our current solution for integrating SMS in areas with low bandwidth (but good wireless service coverage) is to have a FrontlineSMS hub with a compatible mobile phone attached to a computer via USB or even Bluetooth for those who prefer it.

That has worked reasonably well, but we are always looking for ways to improve access to maps containing crowdsourced information, particularly in areas with low Internet penetration rates. Recent statistics indicate that mobile networks are now available to 90 percent of the world’s population overall, and to 80 percent of the people living in rural areas. This means it’s even more important for Ushahidi to be able to collect and then visualize information from mobile phones. It’s worth remembering that for many people with mobile phones, their first social network is their address book.

What follows below are several updates on developments to improve the ability for people to use Ushahidi in low bandwidth areas. We welcome everyone in our greater community to try these applications out and provide us with feedback. Let’s see if we can continue this process of “real-time sense making,” even in rural areas. At the very least, we would like to have the tools well tested and used in various locales.

Luanda

We have an upcoming version of Ushahidi dubbed “Luanda” that will be released soon, it will have many improvements that will be of interest to deployers around the world.

There are two options for using Ushahidi in low bandwidth regions:

1. Configuring the mobile version of the site you build and put Ushahidi on. You will need the 2.0 build of the platform (caveat that it’s a test build). Then add and activate the mobile plug-in from our plug-ins database.

2. The offline mapping tab available as an OS X test build – Dale Zak and Emmanuel Kala are still working on this, but we’d like to invite users to test things out. Caveat is it’s a test build and for Mac OS X for now.

Please submit issues/suggestions on the Github tracking issue tracking log, as this will help us greatly.

Frontline Mapping

The upcoming Frontline Mapping plug-in allows new ways for Ushahidi incident reports to be gathered in the field:

SMS-to-Report — Any incoming text message can be converted into an incident report and synced once Internet access becomes available. For example, a text message that reads “Riots in the streets, several people injured” would be received by Frontline. A person managing the application double-clicks that message and the new incident report dialog is pre-populated with that information, along with the sender’s contact info if available.

FrontlineForms-to-Report — The Mapping plug-in can generate a FrontlineForm with all the required Ushahidi fields, and send that Form to any contact with a Java-enabled phone. The incoming FrontlineForm response is automatically covered to an incident report, and can be synced once the Internet becomes available.

FrontlineSurveys-to-Report — The Mapping plug-in can also populate the new FrontlineSurveys plug-in with Ushahidi-specific questions (such as, “What is the incident description?”) You can send a survey to any contact via SMS, which initializes a series of questions, the next question sent once the previous answer is received.
Here are four demo videos showing the Mapping Plug-in in action:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-One.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Two.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Three.swf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9326/FrontlineSMS-Mapping-Four.swf

Note that the FrontlineForms and FrontlineSurveys options require less work for administrators because the data received is structured; however it may require multiple SMS messages to gather all the information. In times of crisis, the user may only be able to send one text message. However, community health care workers may choose to use the FrontlineForms or FrontlineSurveys options to submit structured patient information.