Somalia is one of those developing countries which end up in world media for all the wrong reasons: civil war, famine, drought, Somalian pirates are to name a few. With the help of an Ushahidi based platform “Somalia Speaks“, Al Jazeera English is aggregating unheard voices from inside Somalia via SMS. The responses are translated into English and finally plotted onto a map. People can also send in a report via SMS to an international number and submit comments online including video links, photo uploads, and text descriptions.
Patrick Meier of Ushahidi explains in a post at Ushahidi blog:
The purpose of this project is to catalyze global media attention on Somalia by letting Somali voices take center stage—voices that are otherwise not heard in the international, mainstream media. If journalists are not going to speak about Somalia, then this project invites Somalis speak to the world themselves. The project highlights these voices on a live, public map for the world to bear witness and engage in a global conversation with people of Somalia, a conversation in which Somalis and the Diaspora are themselves at the centerfold. It is my sincere hope that advocacy and lobby group will be able to leverage the content generated by this project to redouble their efforts in response to the escalating crisis in Somalia.
Souktel sent out the question “How has the Somalia Conflict affected your life?” in Somali language to about 5,000 of their subscribers in geographically disbursed areas. Somalia Speaks received over 3000 replies in text messages, which were translated, categorized and geo-located using this crowdflower plugin. Co.exist reports quoting Riyaad Minty, Al Jazeera’s head of social media, how the crowdsourcing works. There were amazing responses from the online Somali-speaking community, who volunteeed to translate the sms reports. The mapped reports are also linked to a public discussion forum where readers can respond and share their views.
Melissa Ulbricht reports at PBS's Mediashift:
Souktel's Korenblum said that in a five-year period leading up to 2009, mobile phone penetration jumped 1,600% in the Somali region; Souktel has been delivering service in the Horn of Africa since 2008 and has a member SMS subscriber list of over 50,000 people. [..] Reaching out to citizens via SMS, then, makes sense.
Al Jazeera's Soud Hyder said the news network is looking at how to streamline news gathering workflows to get news directly from the people: “It's like taking citizen journalism to the next level.”
A reader, Awaale, commented at Ushahidi blog that people in Somalia understand that SMS is between just two people. So they may respond to the Souktel SMS without knowing that their name will be displayed in Internet exposing themselves to the warlords. He was replied with an assurance that the Al-jazeera team had deleted all personal identifiers from the public site.
Mobile Media Toolkit has a complete case study on this project.