August 27, 2010
If you have a few spare minutes, you can volunteer to help with disaster-relief efforts in Pakistan … even if you’re on the other side of the world.
The power of crowdsourcing has transformed the nature of disaster-relief efforts. In a recent Red Cross survey, more than half the interviewees said that they would report emergencies via social media like Facebook, Twitter, or a personal blog, and more than half said that they would report emergencies by text-message if the service was available.
Globally, we in the humanitarian community are already seeing massive waves of unstructured information coming out of crisis-affected regions. One of the biggest challenges is that the crisis-response community is already stretched in human resources at precisely the time that this information is streaming in.
A team of dedicated people at PakReport are mapping real-time data from Pakistan by collecting information from aid agencies, the media, and direct reports by email and SMS.
CrowdFlower is helping PakReport to geolocate and translate reports from the ground in response to the floods in Pakistan. For the time-intensive task of translating, categorizing, and geolocating these messages, volunteers from anywhere in the world can come online to help process each report simply by reading the message and filling out a form.
CrowdFlower’s internal workings allow us to automatically cross-check this work among multiple volunteers so that the information is not susceptible to the potential errors of any one volunteer. This ensures data-quality for the aid agencies using the data and means that the volunteers can help without fear of accidently introducing bad information.
This is the second time that we have been able to utilize the CrowdFlower platform for crisis response, after we designed a similar process for translating, geolocating, and categorizing emergency text messages in the wake of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
Here, we have integrated CrowdFlower as a plugin for the Ushahidi mapping platform, enabling us to leverage the goodwill and hard work of hundreds of volunteers globally. We hope to see this successful partnership and information processing strategy continue to support more crisis-affected communities in the future, wherever in the world they may be.
Again, if you have even a few minutes to spare, you can volunteer now at PakReport.org.
Robert Munro is the Chief Information Officer at Energy for Opportunity and a Graduate Fellow in computational linguistics at Stanford where he specializes in methods for processing large volumes of information in less-resourced languages.