The UN activated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) on December 3, 2012 to carry out a rapid damage needs assessment in response to Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines. More specifically, the UN requested that Digital Humanitarians collect and geo-reference all tweets with links to pictures or video footage capturing Typhoon damage. To complete this mission, I reached out to my colleagues at CrowdCrafting. Together, we customized a microtasking app to filter, classify and geo-reference thousands of tweets. This type of rapid damage assessment request was the first of its kind, which means that setting up the appropriate workflows and technologies took a while, leaving less time for the tagging, verification and analysis of the multimedia content pointed to in the disaster tweets. Such is the nature of innovation; optimization takes place through iteration and learning.
Microtasking is key to the future of digital humanitarian response, which is precisely why I am launching MicroMappers in partnership with CrowdCrafting. MicroMappers, which combimes the terms Micro-Tasking and Crisis-Mappers, is a collection of free & open source microtasking apps specifically customized and optimized for digital disaster response. The first series of apps focus on rapid damage assessment activations. In other words, the apps include Translate, Locate and Assess. The Translate & Locate Apps are self-explanatory. The Assess App enables digital volunteers to quickly tag disaster tweets that link to relevant multimedia that captures disaster damage. This app also invites volunteers to rate the level of damage in each image and video.
For example, say an earthquake strikes Mexico City. We upload disaster tweets with links to the Translate App. Volunteer translators only translate tweets with location information. These get automatically pushed to the Assess App where digital volunteers tag tweets that point to relevant images/videos. They also rate the level of damage in each. (On a side note, my colleagues and I at QCRI are also developing a crawler that will automatically identify whether links posted on twitter actually point to images/videos). Assessed tweets are then pushed in real-time to the Locate App for geo-referencing. The resulting tweets are subsequently published to a live map where the underlying data can also be downloaded. Both the map & data download feature can be password protected.
The plan is to have these apps online and live 24/7 in the event of an activation request. When a request does come in, volunteers with the Digital Humanitarian Network will simply go to MicroMappers.com (not yet live) to start using the apps right away. Members of the public will also be invited to support these efforts and work along side digital humanitarian volunteers. In other words, the purpose of the MicroMappers Apps is not only to facilitate and accelerate digital humanitarian efforts but also to radically democratize these efforts by increasing the participation base. To be sure, one doesn’t need prior training to microtask, simply being able to read and access the web will make you an invaluable member of the team.
We plan to have the MicroMappers Apps completed in May for testing by members of the Digital Humanitarian Network. In the meantime, huge thanks to our awesome partners at CrowdCrafting for making all of this possible! If you’re a coder and interested in contributing to these efforts, please feel free to get in touch with me. We may be able to launch and test these apps earlier with your help. After all, disasters won’t wait until we’re ready and we have several more disaster response apps that are in need of customization.