35 million missed calls.
That’s the number of calls that 75-year old social justice leader Anna Hazare received from people across India who supported his efforts to fight corruption. Two weeks earlier, he had invited India to join his movement by making “missed calls” to a local number. Missed calls, known as beeping or flashing, are calls that are intentionally dropped after ringing. The advantage of making missed call is that neither the caller or recipient is charged. This tactic is particularly common in emerging economies to avoid paying for air time or SMS. To build on this pioneering work, Anna and his team are developing a mobile petition tool called Crowdring, which turns a free “missed call” into a signature on a petition.
Communicating with disaster-affected communities is key for effective disaster response. Crowdring could be used to poll disaster affected communities. The service could also be used in combination with local community radio stations. The latter would broadcast a series of yes or no questions; ringing once would signify yes, twice would mean no. Some questions that come to mind:
- Do you have enough drinking water?
- Are humanitarian organizations doing a good job?
- Is someone in your household displaying symptoms of cholera?
By receiving these calls, humanitarians would automatically be able to create a database of phone numbers with associated poll results. This means they could text them right back for more information or to arrange an in person meeting. You can learn more about Crowdring in this short video below.
My colleague Fernando Diaz has continued working on an interesting Wikipedia project since he first discussed the idea with me last year. Since Wikipedia is increasingly used to crowdsource live reports on breaking news such as sudden-onset humanitarian crisis and disasters, why not mine these pages for structured information relevant to humanitarian response professionals?
In computing-speak, Sequential Update Summarization is a task that generates useful, new and timely sentence-length updates about a developing event such as a disaster. In contrast, Value Tracking tracks the value of important event-related attributes such as fatalities and financial impact. Fernando and his colleagues will be using both approaches to mine and analyze Wikipedia pages in real time. Other attributes worth tracking include injuries, number of displaced individuals, infrastructure damage and perhaps disease outbreaks. Pictures of the disaster uploaded to a given Wikipedia page may also be of interest to humanitarians, along with meta-data such as the number of edits made to a page per minute or hour and the number of unique editors.
Fernando and his colleagues have recently launched this tech challenge to apply these two advanced computing techniques to disaster response based on crowdsourced Wikipedia articles. The challenge is part of the Text Retrieval Conference (TREC), which is being held in Maryland this November. As part of this applied research and prototyping challenge, Fernando et al. plan to use the resulting summarization and value tracking from Wikipedia to verify related crisis information shared on social media. Needless to say, I’m really excited about the potential. So Fernando and I are exploring ways to ensure that the results of this challenge are appropriately transferred to the humanitarian community. Stay tuned for updates.
See also: Web App Tracks Breaking News Using Wikipedia Edits [Link]