Imagery 3.0

Ushahidi, GeoCommons & Donor2Deed

In our last column we wrote about the “Race to Zero” as the result of Enterprise2.0 technologies, and about instant communications. In the Winter 2009 issue of LBx Journal, we wrote about imagery as digital media in “What’s in an Image? Imagery Value and Perspectives.” These two trends, instant communication and imagery as digital media, are driving the future of imagery in terms of new business models and value proposition to the commercial customer.

Craig Bachmann & Natasha Léger are partners in ITF Advisors, LLC, an independent consulting firm with a focus on next-generation strategy and on translating the increasingly complex new media business environment’s impact on business models, markets and users. Natasha is also editor of the new spin-off publication, LBx Journal.

Imagery as digital media changes everything, according to Antoine de Chassy, President of Spot Image Corporation. Today, imagery is no longer just a static picture. It can be animated to show changes over time. It can be integrated with real-time data sources such as sensors, social networks, business intelligence systems, and newsfeeds to create a new dynamic information platform. As digital media, imagery can be shared, distributed, and used like any other digital media file—think video, photos, and music.

Yet Another Data Source

Satellite imagery combined with geo-tagged photos is now old news. Certainly, Enterprise2.0 tools have incorporated this functionality already, and business applications from real estate to insurance are using it (see “Catastrophic Risk Management” in the Winter 2010 issue of LBx Journal). Imagery is another data source, but it has an advantage over text and numbers. It is already a visual representation. Text and numbers are always in search of better visualization for what they are trying to communicate—whether it is in the form of charts, graphs, or pictures. Imagery, on the other hand, already communicates a great deal of information. It therefore needs the help of text, numbers, and pictures to enhance the data. We have discussed this subject in this column in the past in terms of intelligent pixels.

Platforms like Ushahidi, GeoCommons, and Donor2Deed are beginning to demonstrate an unprecedented level of interactivity with information that is location-oriented. (Mobile location-based applications will be the subject of a future article).

Platforms of Change

Ushahidi (which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili) is a location-based crisis management collaboration platform. It has received widespread attention with the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. allows first responders, disaster relief personnel, and other individuals on the ground (or remotely) to provide real-time updates of the crisis—who and what is in need; what supplies and services have been delivered where. It provides a real-time snapshot of the conditions on the ground. Disaster relief efforts are wrought with confusion, multiple relief organizations, competition for resources and the ability—or inability—to deliver services. Ushahidi can be updated from anywhere in the world with relevant information from digital photos, text messages, phone calls, Twitter feeds, and official reports.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Monitoring Afghanistan. This image captures the monitoring of violence and activity surrounding the 2009 Afghanistan Presidential election. By examining the relationships between demographic statistics, IED attack occurrences, and polling locations, election officials were better prepared to allocate resources where necessary. Flickr photos from an aide worker were also uploaded to show the scene on the ground. Graphic courtesy of FortiusOne.

Ushahidi is the virtual embodiment of a human sensor web of information. This has implications for coordination of future efforts, and perhaps even the future of government and distribution of resources. The basemap is the current backdrop for Ushahidi, which leaves ample opportunity for imagery to deliver a more enriching and informative experience.

GeoCommons is a web-based public research platform with a repository of public data that enables anyone interested in a subject area to search for the data and create a map to visualize that data. GeoCommons is operated by FortiusOne, which received the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Cooperative Agreements Program Award to geo-enable the US government’s tabular data. With GeoCommons, as long as the information desired is available, for example the number of ethanol refineries in the United States and the acreage of corn fields, anyone can map and share the data.

GeoCommons is more than a visualization tool or an easy map generator. It is a data and research platform that brings new meaning and applicability to government data that was previously publicly available, albeit not always easily accessible. See Figures 1 and 2 for examples of GeoCommons in action, monitoring the election in Afghanistan and managing the crisis in Haiti. FortiusOne also makes this platform available to private companies interested in visualizing their corporate data. See “Visual Intelligence for New Markets” in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of LBx Journal for more on FortiusOne.

Donor2Deed is an integrated, location-based, charitable marketing and donation collection platform (see LBx Journal’s Spring/Summer 2010 issue for an interview with Olivia Osgrove, founder of Donor2Deed). Donor2Deed is the beginning of a location-based platform aimed at the distribution of resources. It is a donation and communication engine that collects donations for, and informs the public about a charitable organization, its mission and goals, its funding goals and funding to date, its call to action, the progress of the projects, and the team.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Earthquake Magnitudes and Ushahidi Reports, Jan. 12-14, 2010. Ushahidi and GeoCommons have created a simple and powerful workflow for aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response. This map shows where the recent chain of earthquakes in Haiti occurred (sized by magnitude) as well as the Ushahidi reports coming in from people on the ground nearby. FortiusOne also works actively with other communities such as OpenStreetMap and CrisisCommons in gathering additional data and maps to be shared with responders and agencies working to organize and provide relief and rebuilding efforts.

It provides users with geospatial context in the form of a basemap or satellite or aerial imagery, which is augmented with relevant text and photos to create a multi-media visual presentation of relevant information. Donor2Deed is the first location-based fundraising platform that we have seen. Most other platforms stop at the delivery of information and leave it up to the user to determine what to do with the information. Donor2Deed connects information with action, which makes it an incredibly powerful service.

Beyond Visualization for Commercial Value

Imagery and the basemap are background visualizations in each of these examples. Software providers are adding value to imagery and developing the services that integrate imagery. If the imagery remains just a backdrop, its accuracy is irrelevant to the end-user. The value of imagery to customers interested in the location context is in the application. In some cases, as imagery companies develop new products and services, they could find themselves competing with the companies referenced here.

With all this interactivity, imagery is now a productivity and communication platform, and a social network platform where sensor information and user generated content can be exchanged. Imagery is now the visual platform upon which people can exchange information.

Who will capture this market?
  • The imagery providers?
  • The software providers?
  • Market research and data companies?
  • Vertical application providers?

Digital content combined with open formats and standards has made the integration of imagery and almost anything easier. Imagery as digital media changes everything because now any developer can add location content to any application.

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