I’ve been invited to give a “very provocative talk” on what humanitarian response will look like in 2025 for the annual Global Policy Forum organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York. I first explored this question in early 2012 and my colleague Andrej Verity recently wrote up this intriguing piece on the topic, which I highly recommend; intriguing because he focuses a lot on the future of the pre-deployment process, which is often overlooked.
Anyone working in digital can somewhat relate to the overuse of loosely defined marketing words – think ‘big data’ or ‘cloud computing’ (bzzzz). Growth hacking seems to be just another one of them.
In colloquial terms, growth hacking is associated with the exploitation of loopholes and the use of illegal techniques online to grow business development. Of course, in some cases this has been reality. When PayPal was first used on eBay, it was actually breaching the retailer’s T&C’s. Similarly, when Airbnb first started they poached their customers from Craigslist by spamming listings and inviting users to join their directory instead.
However, growth hacking can also simply be described as the ingenious use of tools, platforms and environments for business development, online AND offline – Google campus in East London, for example, is a good case of growth hacking taking place offline as start-ups use a shared working environment to maximise their potential. Online, growth hacking is the use of tracking and metric tools that teach us where our time is best spent; and the leveraging of platforms where target audiences and key players are.
‘Hacking’ does not necessarily equal to detrimental consequences for larger corporations either. Indeed, Paypal was then bought by eBay, and when Airbnb developed its interface it added the option to ‘post to Craigslist’.
For many launching businesses in today’s fast-moving tech sector, the goal is to attract investors and shareholders, and eventually selling it all to an even larger company. One tech vendor, however, is bucking this urge, preferring instead to have a positive impact on its communities — both users and the cities in which it is locating offices.
“A lot of companies are following that typical Silicon Valley path,” says Brian Cheung, CEO and co-founder of Liferay, Inc., a Los Angeles-based company which provides portal technology to organizations. “They’ve got their investors, and they’re aiming for that acquisition or that public offering. We’re very conscientious about not doing that. We’re still independent, privately held, with no outside capital.” The advantage to staying private is that becoming beholden to shareholders stifles innovation, he adds.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Cheung at Liferay’s recent confab in San Francisco, in which he expounded on his company’s unique philosophy toward innovation and community development. The company, which builds and distributes its software via an open-source model, is founded on the belief that innovation and growth comes from helping to make its customers and communities stronger.
I’m headed to the Philippines this week to collaborate with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on humanitarian crowdsourcing and technology projects. I’ll be based in the OCHA Offices in Manila, working directly with colleagues Andrej Verity and Luis Hernando to support their efforts in response to Typhoon Yolanda. One project I’m exploring in this respect is a novel radio-SMS-computing initiative that my colleague Anahi Ayala (Internews) and I began drafting during ICCM 2013 in Nairobi last week. I’m sharing the approach here to solicit feedback before I land in Manila.
The “Radio + SMS + Computing” project is firmly grounded in GSMA’s official Code of Conduct for the use of SMS in Disaster Response. I have also drawn on the Bellagio Big Data Principles when writing up the in’s and out’s of this initiative with Anahi. The project is first and foremost a radio-based initiative that seeks to answer the information needs of disaster-affected communities.
Opening Keynote Address at CrisisMappers 2013
Welcome to Kenya, or as we say here, Karibu! This is a special ICCM for me. I grew up in Nairobi; in fact our school bus would pass right by the UN every day. So karibu, welcome to this beautiful country (and continent) that has taught me so much about life. Take “Crowdsourcing,” for example. Crowdsourcing is just a new term for the old African saying “It takes a village.” And it took some hard-working villagers to bring us all here. First, my outstanding organizing committee went way, way above and beyond to organize this village gathering. Second, our village of sponsors made it possible for us to invite you all to Nairobi for this Fifth Annual, International Conference of CrisisMappers (ICCM).
I see many new faces, which is really super, so by way of introduction, my name is Patrick and I develop free and open source next generation humanitarian technologies with an outstanding team of scientists at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), one of this year’s co-sponsors.
Digital humanitarian volunteers have been busing tagging images posted to social media in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. More specifically, they’ve been using the new MicroMappers ImageClicker to rate the level of damage they see in each image. Thus far, they have clicked over 7,000 images. Those that are tagged as “Mild” and “Severe” damage are then geolocated by members of the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) who have partnered with GISCorps and ESRI to create this live Crisis Map of the disaster damage tagged using the ImageClicker. The map takes a few second to load, so please be patient.
The more pictures are clicked using the ImageClicker, the more populated this crisis map will become. So please help out if you have a few seconds to spare—that’s really all it takes to click an image. If there are no picture left to click or the system is temporarily offline, then please come back a while later as we’re uploading images around the clock. And feel free to join our list-serve in the meantime if you wish to be notified when humanitarian organizations need your help in the future. No prior experience or training necessary. Anyone who knows how to use a computer mouse can become a digital humanitarian.
The SBTF, GISCorps and ESRI are members of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN), which my colleague Andrej Verity and I co-founded last year. The DHN serves as the official interface for direct collaboration between traditional “brick-and-mortar” humanitarian organizations and highly skilled digital volunteer networks. The SBTF Yolanda Team, spearheaded by my colleague Justine Mackinnon, for example, has also produced this map based on the triangulated results of the TweetClicker:
There’s a lot of hype around the use of new technologies and social media for disaster response. So I want to be clear that our digital humanitarian operations in the Philippines have not been perfect. This means that we’re learning (a lot) by doing (a lot). Such is the nature of innovation. We don’t have the luxury of locking ourselves up in a lab for a year to build the ultimate humanitarian technology platform. This means we have to work extra, extra hard when deploying new platforms during major disasters—because not only do we do our very best to carry out Plan A, but we often have to carry out Plans B and C in parallel just in case Plan A doesn’t pan out. Perhaps Samuel Beckett summed it up best: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
We’ve been able to process and make sense of a quarter of a million tweets in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Using both AIDR (still under development) and Twitris, we were able to collect these tweets in real-time and use automated algorithms to filter for both relevancy and uniqueness. The resulting ~55,000 tweets were then uploaded to MicroMappers (still under development). Digital volunteers from the world over used this humanitarian technology platform to tag tweets and now images from the disaster (click image below to enlarge). At one point, volunteers tagged some 1,500 tweets in just 10 minutes. In parallel, we used machine learning classifiers to automatically identify tweets referring to both urgent needs and offers of help. In sum, the response to Typhoon Yolanda is the first to make full use of advanced computing, i.e., both human computing and machine computing to make sense of Big (Crisis) Data.
We’ve come a long way since the tragic Haiti Earthquake. There was no way we would’ve been able to pull off the above with the Ushahidi platform. We weren’t able to keep up with even a few thousand tweets a day back then, not to mention images. (Incidentally, MicroMappers can also be used to tag SMS). Furthermore, we had no trained volunteers on standby back when the quake struck. Today, not only do we have a highly experienced network of volunteers from the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) who serve as first (digital) responders, we also have an ecosystem of volunteers from the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). In the case of Typhoon Yolanda, we also had a formal partner, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), that officially requested digital humanitarian support. In other words, our efforts are directly in response to clearly articulated information needs. In contrast, the response to Haiti was “supply based” in that we simply pushed out all information that we figured might be of use to humanitarian responders. We did not have a formal partner from the humanitarian sector going into the Haiti operation.
What this new digital humanitarian operation makes clear is that preparedness, partnerships & appropriate humanitarian technology go a long way to ensuring that our efforts as digital humanitarians add value to the field-based operations in disaster zones. The above Prezi by SBTF co-founder Anahi (click on the image to launch the presentation) gives an excellent overview of how these digital humanitarian efforts are being coordinated in response to Yolanda.
While there are many differences between the digital response to Haiti and Yolanda, several key similarities have also emerged. First, neither was perfect, meaning that we learned a lot in both deployments; taking a few steps forward, then a few steps back. Such is the path of innovation, learning by doing. Second, like our use of Skype in Haiti, there’s no way we could do this digital response work without Skype. Third, our operations were affected by telecommunications going offline in the hardest hit areas. We saw an 18.7% drop in relevant tweets on Saturday compared to the day before, for example. Fourth, while the (very) new technologies we are deploying are promising, they are still under development and have a long way to go. Fifth, the biggest heroes in response to Haiti were the volunteers—both from the Haitian Diaspora and beyond. The same is true of Yolanda, with hundreds of volunteers from the world over (including the Philippines and the Diaspora) mobilizing online to offer assistance.
A Filipino humanitarian worker in Quezon City, Philippines, for example, is volunteering her time on MicroMappers. As is customer care advisor from Eurostar in the UK and a fire officer from Belgium who recruited his uniformed colleagues to join the clicking. We have other volunteer Clickers from Makati (Philippines), Cape Town (South Africa), Canberra & Gold Coast (Australia), Berkeley, Brooklyn, Citrus Heights & Hinesburg (US), Kamloops (Canada), Paris & Marcoussis (France), Geneva (Switzerland), Sevilla (Spain), Den Haag (Holland), Munich (Germany) and Stokkermarke (Denmark) to name just a few! So this is as much a human story is it is one about technology. This is why online communities like MicroMappers are important. So please join our list-serve if you want to be notified when humanitarian organizations need your help.
Posted: 06 Nov 2013 03:00 AM PST
Diversity – Zacqary Adam Green: The earth-shattering thing about bitcoin isn’t its fixed money supply. It’s not the carefully tuned algorithm that keeps its growth at a steady rate, or the inability of a political body to play with its value. What’s new and government-toppling about bitcoin is that it’s a framework for starting a new economy.
Gold and silver have coexisted with governments and nation-states for thousands of years. If the economic properties of bitcoin — its finite supply — were inherently state-smashing, we’d be living in a very different world before the computer were even invented. No, bitcoin’s revolution isn’t what the Bitcoin Foundation calls its “non-political economy.”
In fact, you could argue that “non-political economy” is an oxymoron. If we define “political” as only referring to the workings of a state, then sure, you can have a non-political economy. But in the colloquial way that people often talk about “politics” — the “internal politics” of a workplace or social club, for example — there’s no such thing as a non-political economy. Any kind of money — whether it’s gold, dollars, bitcoin, or licking things to claim them as your own — only has any value if everyone in the economy agrees that it does.
I like the way David Graeber puts it in Debt:
[Money] is not a “thing” at all. You can no more touch a dollar or a deutschmark than you can touch an hour or a cubic centimeter. Units of currency are merely abstract units of measurement…If money is just a yardstick, what then does it measure? The answer [is] simple: debt. A coin is, effectively, an IOU.
Brett Scott expands on this:
Perhaps we can tinker with the word ‘money’ itself. It’s a mass noun, like you’d use for some kind of tangible substance, and it makes money sound like a ‘thing-in-itself’. As a kind of mental discipline, I prefer to use a different word: COGAS. It stands for ‘claims on goods and services’, which is all money really is.
So money is just a way of measuring who owes what: you give me something or do something for me, and now I owe you something equally valuable in return. That’s a social relation. And if a big group of people get together to agree on how their social relations should work, it suddenly starts to look political. Even the decision to use bitcoin requires the initial political decision to not screw with its politics in the future.
But wait just a minute. You see what just happened? A group of people decided that instead of using a national currency, with properties they don’t like and can’t control, decided to instead use bitcoin. That’s your revolution.
Bitcoin’s real contribution to the world is its source code. The blockchain, the network protocol, the cryptographic verification — anyone can take this and build a currency with any economic properties their community needs. I’m not convinced that bitcoin’s Austrian School properties can sustain a global (or even local) economy, but you know what? That’s okay. If I ever feel the bitcoin economy has become too unequal, unbalanced, or stagnant, it’s now trivial for me to start my own damn currency.
A single bitcoin belongs is a measurement like a centimeter, but the bitcoin community is a social network. People use bitcoin because other people they trade with use bitcoin. If my town is running low on bitcoin but has a lot of resources to share internally, we can create our own local currency to free up bitcoin for importing and exporting. Or I could join an online network of artists who work on one another’s projects, and we’d create our own internal currency that plays by whatever rules we need it to.
There is no perfect monetary system for every situation. Bitcoin is not going to be the one world currency, and it doesn’t need to be. A lot of people compare Bitcoin to the Internet, but it’s more like CompuServe. It’s the first of many digital, non-state currencies to come, that will all interoperate with each other in ways we can’t even dream of yet.
“Arguing that Big Data isn’t all it’s cracked up to be is a straw man, pure and simple—because no one should think it’s magic to begin with.” Since citing this point in my previous post on Big Data for Disaster Response: A List of Wrong Assumptions, I’ve come across more mischaracterizations of Big (Crisis) Data. Most of these fallacies originate from the Ivory Towers; from social scientists who have carried out one or two studies on the use of social media during disasters and repeat their findings ad nauseam as if their conclusions are the final word on a very new area of research.
The mischaracterization of “Big Data and Sample Bias”, for example, typically arises when academics point out that marginalized communities do not have access to social media. First things first: I highly recommend reading “Big Data and Its Exclusions,” published by Stanford Law Review. While the piece does not address Big Crisis Data, it is nevertheless instructive when thinking about social media for emergency management. Secondly, identifying who “speaks” (and who does not speak) on social media during humanitarian crises is of course imperative, but that’s exactly why the argument about sample bias is such a straw man—all of my humanitarian colleagues know full well that social media reports are not representative. They live in the real world where the vast majority of data they have access to is unrepresentative and imperfect—hence the importance of drawing on as many sources as possible, including social media. Random sampling during disasters is a Quixotic luxury, which explains why humanitarian colleagues seek “good enough” data and methods.
The sharing economy movement is taking a new stride in the Arab World, and many platforms have taken the initiative of implementing the methods of collaborative economy. We dig deep and scrutinize the factors and the potential which could see this industry grow bigger in the region at a quick rate. Here we offer some successful stories.
The sharing economy in the Arab World has been witnessing an ongoing shift in the trend that has envisaged owning rather than accessing. This shift has turned things around, where now the value of the product in the Arab World day after another has become one of usage- not in its outright ownership anymore; as was the case with mainstream consumer models. Used products are more fashionable, thanks to the popularity of online platforms for buying and selling used goods.
People are also adopting what could be called collaborative lifestyles, and depend on each other in circulating and spreading all what occupy their daily interests and concerns like we have seen in the turbulent upheavals of the Arab Spring where the power of social media and its effect on society have accelerated the rate at which relationships develop and information is shared.
The sharing economy movement in the Arab World has seen a positive eruption in the recent few years, especially in the last one. We’re beginning to share more and more in the Arab world —; boats (fishfishme); skills (Taskty); carpooling (Kartag); swapping goods (Swaphood ) or selling used goods (krakeebegypt, dubizzle.com, Avito.ma In Morocco, a classified ads website has become the second most-visited website in the country. and Takemine the first online marketplace for peer-to-peer goods sharing in Dubai that will open (launch) soon.