On the 6th September, London Underground staff staged the first of four walk-outs. On Monday, Londoners face the final of these planned stikes. I have been working with BBC London, encouraging the use of the Ushahidi crowdmap platform to report the effects of the last three strikes on the city. (I wrote up lessons form the first strike here).
From the beginning we had planned to use the crowdmap for all of the strikes so we could compare, contrast and learn as we went.
As I emphasised here, the map has demonstrated very clearly, that on certain stories, collaboration is the only possible way to report events. BBC London could not resource reporters at every station checking to see whether it was open or closed throughout the day, at every bus stop taking pictures of overcrowding, or giving tips about unclogged roads or the locations of available Boris Bikes.
And yet, while people are looking at the map in large numbers (about 20,000 uniqiue visitors each time) the number of people submitting tips, pictures and experiences is still small. Yes, the #tubestrike hashtag has provided some of the best material, but the map still feels locked in a social media bubble.
I try to imagine what the map would look like if it was covered in red dots, with real-time updates about the current travel situation. The network effect would take hold. The more people use it, the more useful it would become, and more people would use it.
I feel uncomfortable comparing ushahidi deployments, as it’s inappropriate to compare commuters being inconvenienced on their way to work with the terrible situation experienced by Pakistanis during the recent floods (pakreport.org), or the situation in Moscow last summer when the fires took hold (russian-fires.ru). But in Pakistan they’ve had over 2000 reports (a cry for help was posted this morning from someone who has lost everything and can’t get support), and the Russian fires received over 1600 reports.
The London maps have received a handful of direct reports. We’ve been posting content which included the #tubestrike hastag on twitter, adding verified station closure information, and posting audioboos from BBC London reporters, but we’ve received very few emails, SMS’s or reports submitted on the crowdmap itself.
When this tubestrike ends, I will be writing up a report about what has worked, what hasn’t, but mostly, whether this sort of effort can be justified from a resourcing point of view.
Personally, I think it is important that the BBC has a space where this sort of collaborative journalism can be encouraged, but if reports from the audience are minimal, should the crowdmap be resourced?
Is part of the problem the fact that this map appears to be “sponsored” by the BBC. Do people feel like the BBC must know the current situation and therefore they have little to offer? Does it feel too top down rather than community-driven?
We’re going to give it one last push next Monday, and I’d be very grateful if you could use online spaces to encourage people to use it – facebook, message boards, and blogs, as well as offline spaces – in your places of work, down the pub, and around your breakfast table.
But overall, we want to learn from this experiment. When big events strike, is crowdmap a useful way of describing the impact?