Crowdsourcing the Oil Spill Fallout

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A New Orleans non-profit wants you to tweet for the environment. E-mail and texts are fine, too.

Environmental advocacy group The Louisiana Bucket Brigade launched a new tool this week that lets anyone submit incident reports reports on how the oil spill is affecting life and land on the Gulf Coast. Users have filed reports on, among other things, a recovering oil-covered bird in Fort Jackson and a fourth-generation shrimper who's now out of work in Venice. The flow of data has been slow because oil hasn't yet hit Louisiana's bayous, but the non-profit hopes thousands will contribute as the damage spreads.

The project is run on the young crowdsourcing Ushahidi Platform, which is open-source and available as a free download. Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, was first used to map political violence in Kenya in 2008 where it eventually gained 45,000 users, according to their website. It has since exploded.

As Global Voices reports, "it has become nearly impossible to discuss citizen technology efforts in Africa without mentioning Ushahidi." The platform "has sparked a wave of election monitoring projects that utilize the tool, both in Africa and in other regions." Over 3,500 reports were filed in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.

But there are lighter uses, too. Citizens kept tabs on the cleanup following historic snowfall in D.C. this winter. And it has even been deployed to track zombie activity.

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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.
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