Foko Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS for an SMS Alert System in Madagascar

Ariniaina and I were supposed to present the Foko-Ushahidi platform during the last BarCamp but we lacked time. I’ll try then to write here what we’ve been through (here in Madagascar) to get this SMS Alert System up and running.

Foko Ushahidi

I can’t talk on behalf of Lova and those who (are abroad) worked hard and fought to have this project see the light because I knew we were not the only ones who had troubles. The main goal was to set up a system that will allow people to submit reports from where they are and being given that mobile phones are more well spread and used here than Internet the option of “using SMSs” was the ideal solution. Lucky enough, the software Ushahidi has already an embeded system that can manage SMS submissions.

The other tool that often works with it is FrontlineSMS. In fact, it’s a desktop software which you install on your PC to be able to receive and send texts. The only problem is that it doesn’t work with any mobile phones. As I said here, it was hard to find the required ones. When Lova was still in the US he sent us the necessary fund to buy the phone and the data cable. At the time we thought of dealing with a Nokia 3220 or a Motorola L6i. It was during the unrest and all the shops were looted or robbed. Therefore closed. It didn’t help us much. Pakysse and I had spent about two weeks to look for the phones but we just could not find and the phone with its appropriate data cable. Knowing this, Lova contacted the developers of FrontlineSMS and they rushed a beta release that works with Clickatell IntelliSMS. A web sms-gateway that can work with FrontlineSMS. We set everything up and sent SMS tests. It worked, we could receive the texts and in FrontlineSMS and in Foko-Ushahidi. But it was not what we excpected. Clickatell uses email to send back the texts that have been sent to your account and it only recognizes numbers from which a text was sent to. A bit complicated you may say. So to make it clearer, we were obliged to text someone (via FrontlineSMS and Clickatell) before this latter could text us back then submit a report. Plus the SMS coast was high. At that point, it was getting really complicated. We let it go like this for some weeks before Lova arrived in Madagascar. An important part of the reports were submitted through the web form.

A week ago, Lova could buy a phone that works with FrontlineSMS. It may help you guys, a Sony Ericsson w200i works like a charm.

How to submit reports
You have two main ways to submit report on Foko-Ushahidi.
On the web : if you have an available internet connection visit and then click on “Soumettre”. You just fill out the form prompted to you (make sure you give all the required information).

By SMS : (+261)334069111 is our number. Send us your report with the place where it happened and the core information. We may reply you back to ask for more details. And please don’t hide your numbers, we won’t disclose any private information concerning our sources.

The process of verifing and confirming reports

In this video Lova explains (fr) the process to avoid as maximum as possible rumors on the platform. This one is composed of few points.

– Blogger’s ethic : assume his writings, we know who he is, his online history

– Digital proofs

– The strength of the number and the wisdom of the crowd

– Ushahidi swift river

  • Asking for more details from the sender
  • Report verified but not confirmed
  • Report confirmed by other sources
  • Report officially confirmed