Today we pushed an event aggregator site for Design Week NYC out into the world.
Pulled together quickly in response to community need, we used the open source Ushahidi platform, usually used for emergency situations. We jokingly talked about using it to ‘tackle a design emergency’.
Micah answered a couple of questions about the project.
Why Ushahidi? What was Cooper-Hewitt’s relationship with them, if any?
When our communications and marketing team approached us with this project, I immediately thought of Ushahidi. We had recently featured Ushahidi in our Design with the Other 90%: CITIES exhibition, and through this I had grown to know their platform. Although originally designed for use with emergency situations and election monitoring ( or Wall Street occupying ) I thought that it could easily be customized to make sense for a city-wide week of related events. it seemed a perfect fit.
Ushahidi is an open source platform that is very much in development. Were there any tensions between using it ‘out of the box’ and the desired functionality?
Yes, we had to customize it to suit our needs. The main issue was the nomenclature Ushahidi has baked in across the platform. For example, the term “reports” didn’t really fit the vision we had for our deployment, as we would be mainly listing “events.” However, it turned out that this was fairly easy to remedy as the dev team at Ushahidi has done a decent job in compartmentalizing these kinds of things in the source code. The platform is also theme based, much like WordPress, so we were able to customize the overall look and feel of the site to our liking.
Some other issues we have come across have to do with the basic workflow. In a typical Ushahidi deployment, people on the ground submit reports. Its pretty straight forward. For our site, it would make more sense to create a list of events on a running basis and then allow the use of SMS and email and twitter to essentially comment and “check in.” It’s really only a matter of associating these things with the right data model, but this is failry rigid at the moment within the Ushahidi platform.
What were some of the major technical difficulties in getting it up and running?
Ushahidi has a lot of moving parts. Getting a basic install up and running is pretty easy ( about as easy as installing WordPress ) but it took some time to figure out how to integrate the site with the wide variety of plugins and add ons that are required to make the site really work. Functionality like following a twitter hashtag, submitting events via email or text took a little effort to get working properly.
Can you imagine a less-emergency-oriented fork of Ushahidi for these sorts of event planner operations?
Yes! I think it would be great to either fork Ushahidi for sites like ours that are more event driven and less “reporting.” However, I also sort of wonder if the dev team at Ushahidi might consider redesigning the core to make some of this a little more flexible. I’d also love to see them help prepare open sourced iPhone code for a more custom app deployment. There was a great article about using Ushahidi to essentially “roll your own” foursquare. The platform supports the idea of checkins via the iPhone app, though this part of the project seems to be fairly beta at the moment.