Tag Archives: FreeSoftware

Ushahidi tracks the Gulf Oil Spill: Open Source Crowdsourcing at Work

Ushahidi - Born in Africa

Ushahidi - Born in Africa

On April 20th, 2010, a methane gas explosion ripped apart the operational oil rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico. This accident has become a catastrophe – the largest oil spill in US history. It has damaged the entire ecosystem of life in the Gulf. The ocean waters and shorelines of Gulf states all the way to Florida and the Mississippi river delta continue to be ravaged by the gushing oil. The spill is affecting millions of people, marine life and wildlife. Major parties involved are trying to find effective solutions to control the spill and cap the leak. More needs to be done.

Tracking the damage

In the last 64 days, many technologies have been deployed to track the oil spill damage and its cleanup. For example, the Oil Spill Crisis Map project by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Tulane University students has successfully been used to track oil spill reports and incidents.

Oil Spill Crisis Map is built on Ushahidi, an open source platform for crowdsourcing crisis information. Ushahidi allows the project team to visualize data on maps and gather data via multiple channels – Web, Email, Text Messaging (SMS), Multimedia Messaging (MMS), Twitter and Cell Phones (including iPhone and Android). Anyone can use these channels to report geo-tagged incidents about oil damaged terrain (beaches, islands, shorelines) and wildlife. Reports can even be submitted anonymously by people.

The power of such a distributed design is evident. 923 reports have been filed to date with 81.26% verification. This information is open, free and accessible (available in multiple open formats such as RSS, KML, JSON, CSV) to anyone who needs it. Anyone can also sign up and receive email or text alerts about spill damage reports in their local area. The tool has empowered local communities to actively participate in tracking, reporting and preventing further damage.

A Potent Combination

Together, crowdsourcing and open source are a potent combination especially during possible emergencies. In this case, the Ushahidi based Oil Crisis Map has helped share data across communities and has openly presented the magnitude of the oil spill. Also, it has enabled people on the ground to actively participate in solving this crisis using current and accurate information.

Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony”) itself emerged from another emergency – monitoring a disputed Kenyan election in 2007 with a mash-up of eyewitness reports onto a Google map. Today Ushahidi has developers from Kenya (where it started), Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Netherlands and the US. Ushahidi was also used in Project Vote Report India for India’s 2009 general elections to track election irregularities.

Crisis management software has entered a new era with open source and open data tools like Ushahidi. Open source maximizes opportunities for reuse. Open data maximizes opportunities to share and analyze results. Broadcasting results through the Internet makes outreach possible to affected communities within hours of any emergency. Tools like Ushahidi lower barriers to automated tracking and reporting on crises. Ushahidi is a game changer.

Poll : Why Women Matter in FOSS?

Open World Forum

Open World Forum

The free and open source software world believes in freedom, openness, access and collaboration as some of its core values. Yet, the number of women in FOSS is minimal. Why? And how can this be changed?

April, a leading non-profit organization in France which promotes free and open source software is conducting a poll to better understand the role of women in FOSS. Researchers at one of Paris’ main universities – Paris Descartes University, will be analyzing the poll results. The analysis will be presented on September 30th in the Diversity Summit, at the Open World Forum in Paris.

If you’re involved in the FOSS community and care about this issue, express your opinion by taking a few minutes to complete the poll at:


Drupal Sprint in Pune this weekend

Drupal in India by Prasad Shirgaonkar

Drupal in India by Prasad Shirgaonkar

Drupal seems to be picking up momentum among Indian developers and students this year. Reflecting this new-found interest is the upcoming Drupal Sprint on October 30th and 31st in Pune. The sprint is taking place at the Bhaskaracharya Pratishthana (BP) campus on Law College Road and is being organized by Pune Linux Users Group (PLUG) enthusiasts and BP.

At this cosy and focused FOSS gathering, you can participate in a sprint to fix bugs, write documentation, develop Drupal modules as well as learn about migrating from Drupal 6 to the latest Drupal 7. And if you’re not into developing code or documentation, you can learn about how Drupal is being used in websites, blogs and online magazines by attending talks and workshops which occur in parallel.

After organizing PLUGMASH a couple of years ago, I’m glad to see the PLUG organizing this event. It would be impossible to pull off this sprint without Vivek Khurana, Manjusha Joshi, Sudhanwa Jogalekar and all the folks volunteering their time to share their passion for Drupal.

Registration is free for this sprint. So all you need is time and of course an interest in building beautiful websites. If you’re in the Mumbai-Pune area, do stop by and participate. I’d love to hear from you about the event, so send me your feedback :-)

India’s FOSS community celebrates Software Freedom Day 2009

SFD 2009

SFD 2009

Today is Software Freedom Day. India’s FOSS community has organized install fests, software demos and talks to promote free and open source software across the nation. University FOSS clubs, Linux User Groups (LUGs) and Open Source User Groups (OSUMs) have been organizing grass-root gatherings all week.

Coverage from some of these events includes:

It’s pretty exciting to see so much activity. Hope to see even more schools and colleges participate next year. Happy SFD 2009!

Are you ready to Ubunchu!

Ubunchu - A Ubuntu Manga Comic Book (Credit: Ubunchu)

Ubunchu - A Ubuntu Manga Comic Book (Credit: Ubunchu)

Earlier this month, Ubunchu, a comic book for Ubuntu, was published in Japanese. Ubunchu is about three students in a sysadmin club who are learning about Ubuntu. Japanese Manga artist (Mangaka) Hiroshi Seo is the creator of this comic series and his first edition has already been translated into English, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese. Translated versions can be found here.

The comic book format has become an interesting, if novel, way to popularize technology. For example, when Google released Chrome, it introduced its new browser accompanied by a wildly popular comic book. I believe this format could also help kids in middle school and high school learn about the latest technologies like Linux and open source.

Calling on our Indian language localizers… Are you ready to translate Ubunchu? Ubunchu comes with a Creative Commons license and has the SVG source available too. So it should be easy to translate and spread the word.

And here is what Hiroshi says to translators…

For translators:

  • If your are planning to translate the manga into another language,  my consent is not required,  for it is released under Creative Commons BY-NC license. Though I’d really appreciate if you let me know it when it’s done. Then I would add the link of the distribution site to the list above.
  • Both English version’s are distributed with it’s SVG sources. You will find it very easy to edit with SVG editing software like Inkscape. Thanks to DoctorMO & C-quel’s work!  When using these sources, please don’t forget to add the credit for them.

Gaining Political Capital for Open Source in India

Open Source in India

Open Source in India

Open source software has made it to the information technology plans of the political machinery in India. With national elections just around the corner in April and May, everyone in India’s multi-party system is looking for alliances, marriages, deals — any arrangement — to ensure their next win. And everyone is customizing their PR machinery to appeal to the millions of voters in both rural and urban areas – trying to fit the shoe to the appropriate foot.

On March 14th, one of India’s major opposition groups – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced an Information Technology Vision that mentions open source software in two contexts – one of open standards and the other of open source in education. The plan urges the “Government of India to standardize on ‘open standard’ and ‘open source’ software.” It also suggests that “an IT standards-setting body would be spun out of BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards).” The plan further promotes using open source software to expand eEducation, to enable building a Rs.10,000 laptop and to spread innovation in the nation’s academic community.

Noble ideas that would represent giant steps for open source software adoption in India!

In close succession to the BJP’s announcement, another power bloc led by the Communist Party of India – CPI (Marxist) announced their manifesto on March 16th. This proposal for reform in science and technology includes some loaded statements listed below which seem to reinforce a collective model for using open source software and banning software patents.

“…promoting free software and other such new technologies, which are free from monopoly ownership through copyrights or patents;
… the promotion of a “knowledge commons” across disciplines, like biotechnology and drug discovery…..
… scrapping the public funded R&D Bill, that seeks to allow patenting of products that are developed through public funded laboratories…
… revamping the functioning of the Patent offices to ensure strict adherence to the Indian Patent Act;
… stop training and orientation of Indian Patent office personnel by the US and European Patent offices.”

The ruling coalition led by the Congress Party, in its manifesto released on March 24th, talks about using IT to expand educational institutions, to improve connectivity infrastructure and to provide citizen IDs. It does not yet address the opportunities offered to India by open source software but perhaps a little more encouragement could do the trick.

Credit must be given to India’s leaders in the open source software community. They have fought for, motivated and architected inclusion of open source software into the vision statements of some of the major political parties of India. The best of our tireless warriors fighting to gather political capital for open source have included Venkatesh Hariharan of Red Hat, Jaijit Bhattacharya of Sun Microsystems and Ashish Gautam of IBM.

Today is International Women’s Day

International Womens Day is March 8

International Womens Day is March 8

International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrates the many achievements of women all over the world. This day symbolizes the positive changes that are happening in every walk of life for women – in education, in healthcare, in business, in government, in politics and in technology.

But more needs to be done. I’d like to see more women participate in open source as users, developers, contributors, catalysts, managers and educators. More women should develop software, design software and promote its use for social change or for success in business.

Here is a list of women in open source that my friend Kirrily Roberts at Geek Feminism started last year. All women in open source are welcome to join.

In this coming year, let us try harder to get our women colleagues, friends, sisters, daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers to learn more about open source and how it can be an agent of change in our communities.

GNUnify 2009: Community Support Matters

GNUnify 2009

GNUnify 2009

I’ve been supporting GNUnify in Pune for many years now. And every year it has been great to see the deep support of local organizations like the Pune Linux Users Group (PLUG), Pune Tech and others.

GNUnify has come a long way. It started off as a small college festival in 2003 and has blossomed into a full-fledged technology conference today that represents the diverse and talented free and open source community of Pune. In an earlier era, while I was organizing LinuxAsia in Delhi, I was happy that I could help Harshad Gune, the key mover behind Gunefy, er… GNUnify, to grow the conference by having key players in the global open source community participate, speak and mentor at GNUnify. I’m proud to have been able to get many of my open source colleagues and friends including David Axmark of MySQL, Brian Behlendorf of Apache, Louis Suarez Potts of OpenOffice, Danese Cooper of OSI, Zaheda Bhorat from Google, Bob Adkins of Technetra, Matt Barker from Ubuntu, Chander Kant of Zmanda, Tony Wasserman of CMU and others to participate locally and help GNUnify grow. In addition, India’s FOSS community poured in their support in the form of speakers, participants, and mentors. That’s why I consider GNUnify to be a serious community contribution to growing open source and collaboration.

This year was another step in the right direction. I was excited when I met with Seth Bindernagel at Mozilla HQ in Mountain View and he agreed that it would be great to pull together a Mozilla Camp at the conference. Seth and his colleague Arun Ranganathan came all the way from California to deliver a fantastic Mozilla Day at the conference. It was also an opportunity for members of Mozilla’s India localization volunteer team to meet, discuss and make things happen for Firefox.

Another project that I was happy to see participate this year was Fedora India. The Fedora Activity Days (FAD) at GNUnify were a high energy effort that pulled together India’s Fedora team. I thank my friends at Red Hat, especially Sankarshan, for making this happen. FAD mentored and inspired developers and students interested in learning and participating more in the Fedora project.

It was also good to see the diversity in the technology program at the conference this year. Other workshops and talks that I thought were well done included Bob’s workshop on “Ruby from Basics” which had more than 70 hands-on participants (wow!), Rajesh’s “Programming with OpenOffice.org” workshop, Bain’s talk on git, Namita’s talk on ext4 filesystems, Dexter’s talk on WordPress tips and tricks “Blog A Way”, Pradeepto’s “Hello World – the KDE way”, and Navin’s talk on FREEconomics: the economics of free open/source. My talk on “User As Contributor: Best Practices For Growing Open Source User Communities” had lots of interaction on how and where FOSS users can contribute to growing the adoption of open source in their local communities, using local languages and locally relevant applications.

A new session at GNUnify this time was the Frequently Used Entries for Localization (FUEL) session which brought together a small but dedicated group (Rajesh Ranjan, Sandeep Shedmake, Sudhanwa Jogalekar, G. Karunakar) working on accurate translations for Marathi localization.

Another new program at GNUnify this year was “FOSS in Academics“. The session perhaps could have been better organized and better attended, but then this reflected the reality that technology education in India is by and large FOSS ignorant and unaware of many of the changes sweeping through the software world. As the need to provide FOSS-ready talent to the Indian IT industry grows, the urgency to incorporate FOSS in education is expected to follow. Its good to see GNUnify try its hand at FOSS in Academics. It might start a trend!

GNUnify 2009: Community Feedback

GNUnify 2009

GNUnify 2009

GNUnify always creates buzz in India’s FOSS beehive ;) and this year was no different.

Here are some blog posts from participants at this year’s conference which I feel provide valuable feedback to tune the conference further to serve its community.

GNUnify 2009 photos can be viewed here.

Open Source in India Today

Open Source in India

Open Source in India

There is a lot happening around the world in open source. And open source is becoming more mainstream in the Indian economy. A variety of interests on the part of government, industry and academia are encouraging adoption of open source software in India. Demand for open source has followed the increase in demand for information technologies in all sectors. Liberalization in procurement policy has also contributed to the demand for open source solutions. Industry, academia and community groups are providing training for open source software skills. All of these trends indicate that India is poised to begin to leverage open source software in a bigger way.

Read more in my recent article on FOSSBazaar.org about what’s happening in India.