Ushahidi Funding and a New Website!

Most of June I spent in Kenya, much of that time talking to developers and getting ready for the next big Ushahidi push. During that time there was a new article about Ushahidi being one of the “Ten Startups to Watch” in the Technology Review, which was exciting for us to say the least!

July and August have been spent working hard on getting the application rebuilt, the site redesigned and creating partnerships with other organizations. September is about launching the NEW Ushahidi.

A New Website

Now we’re off and running with a new website design, live today, that shows how our goals and focus have changed since things blew up in Kenya. (get a new Ushahidi button for your site.)

Funding

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve secured more than the $25,000 prize money from NetSquared (which has allowed us to do so much already). We have also just secured a grant of $200,000 from Humanity United!

Humanity United is an independent grantmaking organization committed to building a world where modern-day slavery and mass atrocities are no longer possible. They support efforts that empower affected communities and address the root causes of conflict and modern-day slavery to build lasting peace.

There is an obvious fit between Humanity United and Ushahidi, after all, we were founded on the same beliefs back in January in Kenya. Though we’re creating the Ushahidi engine as an open source project, our goal remains to see it used to better understand, give warning of, and recover from mass atrocities.

The Vision

Ushahidi is moving from being a one-time mashup covering the post-election violence in Kenya to something bigger. We are setting out to create an engine that will allow anyone to do what we did. A free and open source tool that will help in the crowdsourcing of information – with our personal focus on crisis and early warning information.

We see this tool being used in two ways:

  • First, to crowdsource crisis information by creating an online space that allows “everyday” people all over the world to report what they see during a crisis situation, and whose reports are generally overlooked or under reported by most media and governments.
  • Second, make that software engine free and available to the world, so that others can benefit from a tool that allows distributed data gathering and data visualizations.

We’re aiming to release an alpha version of it in just a few weeks for internal testing, and for alpha testing with pre-screened pilot organizations.

Volunteer Devs, Designers and Others

One of the reasons Ory and I were in Kenya was to talk to developers about helping with Ushahidi. We were overwhelmed with the amount of interest and the quality of the people who stepped up. So far we have a team working on mobile phones, a designers group, and a number of PHP experts. Go ahead and take a look at the development wiki as well.

If you’d like to play a part, get in touch and we’ll see where you can best fit in. You don’t have to be a developer or designer either.

[Credits: Richard “Ochie” Flores for the excellent design, Kwame Nyong’o for the beautiful illustrations, and Ivan Bernat for the spotless HTML/CSS markup.)

Press Release: Ushahidi Funding & New Website (PDF)

I Need a Good Illustrator

[UPDATE: Kwame Nyong’o will be doing out illustration work for Ushahidi. Thank you to everyone for the references and emails!]

I am badly in need of an illustrator to help with the Ushahidi.com redesign – mainly for accenting and icons. I’m looking for someone who can do work in a similar style to the image seen below. If you’ve ever been to Africa, or seen an African children’s book, you’ll realize how iconic this type of illustration work is to Africa.

We don’t have a large budget, but I will pay for this work. Pass it on to your friends who are good illustrators.

If you know who did the above work, I’d love to talk to him/her. Contact me here. Thanks!

A Talk with Jamati’s Founder: Elias Mageto

I’ve been tracking a site called Jamati, an African entertainment portal, for a little while. Sitting out in Nairobi last week, I got an email wondering if I wanted to talk to the founder, a certain Elias Mageto, who happened to be in town from the US at the same time. Good timing!

“We want to be the go-to network for the diaspora.”

I thought Jamati was new. It isn’t. In fact, it was first launched in 2001, relaunched in 2005, and then relaunched again in 2007. The fact that I finally heard about it last year is proof that Elias finally has found the right mix to make it work.

Elias is Kenyan, with an American mother, and has no Kenyan accent at all (interestingly, a lot like a certain political candidate in the US). An unlikely background in Economics, time at the World Bank and Congressional Black Caucus wasn’t what I was expecting to hear as the background to his entrepreneurial drive into online entertainment. However, he saw a niche needing to be filled and, over 7 years, has continued to try to crack it open.

One of the things that Elias said struck me as very important for this type of pan-African portal play. That is, his seven-person team is made up of individuals from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. Everyone in this space knows that it’s a lot easier to be regional than continental, but a team makeup like this means it’s easier to do. Those connections back into each major region are already there.

Competitively, two other new publishers,AfricanPath and African Loft, would seem to be the most logical comparison. However, knowing a little about both companies, I think they’re all doing different things (right now, but there will be greater overlap as they grow).

  • AfricanPath is about African news, business and politics.
  • African Loft is about African diaspora community and African news.
  • Jamati is about African lifestyle and entertainment.

All bridge two worlds, with heavy readership percentages from the diaspora. It will be interesting to see which can grow as time passes, and more importantly, which can attract enough eyeballs for advertisers to start funding more growth.