Even blogging, often done on supported platforms and with reasonably intuitive interfaces, can throw up apoplexy-inducing technical obstacles on occasion. If that's the case with a blog, how much more so with something like the Ushahidi platform? Ushahidi deployed its crisis-mapping platform in the violent aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan elections. Now it's introducing a version it says is much less technically demanding: Crowdmap.

"All it takes to get started is filling out a simple form with your password, a valid subdomain, name and tagline for your deployment and you're good to go."

A Simple Complexity

Ushahidi combines elements of the real-time web, crowdsourcing, mobile and data visualization to process as-it-happens incident reports. These reports are mapped on a central site where they can be consulted by visitors. Since its debut, it has been used in other election environments, in South Africa to track incidents of xenophobic violence and in Gaza to track incidents of violence during the conflict with Israel.

The focus, however, has been on organizations with the technical chops to install and use the platform. Crowdmap, if it works without inducing aneurysms, may have the potential that blogging did in areas of conflict and high censorship: anyone with basic tech access and determination should be able to download, launch and run a Crowdmap deployment.

State of the Nations...or of Despair?

As to how easy it really is, we have enlisted the help of a semi-professional iLuddite (the author) to test that theory. Having a long-standing interest in American Indian nations, he decided...OK, it's me. I decided to see if we could track the type, frequency and location of incidents of conflict around Indian reservations in the U.S. I have some ideas about this, but instead of expressing them, I'm going to try to use Crowdmap to map them, and see what the data tell us.

Well, easy enough to do but what I got sent to was not my "deployment," which I've called "State of the Nations," but to the default URL. Trying again, I got a list of "your deployments" with included Louisville Flood Preparedness. I decided to logout. Now, I can't see a place to log back in. There is a place to register an incident, but given the fact that it's centered on Nairobi, I don't think it's my kind of incident.

I went back to the original homepage and could login again. OK. I am at my front door but now need to change the hub location to something a little closer at hand. In the Account Setting area...

Wow. I'm reasonably certain my name is not Brian Herberto.

Well, this isn't going great. When I tried to sign in again, my user ID and password was rejected and my domain, stateofthenations.crowdmap.com, isn't working.

I am a picture-perfect example of someone who knows just enough about tech to hang themselves, so a one-click type deployment should be idiot-proof for me. This one definitely isn't. Verdict? Hopefully, this is just bugs getting settled. It is a beta version, after all. But, as of right now, the idea of an easy-to-deploy version of the Ushahidi platform remains just a good idea.

...And the mystery may be solved. It looks like crowd demand may have overwhelmed the folks at Ushahidi.

"Due to the unexpected and overwhelming demand on crowdmap.com, we are experiencing some technical difficulties. Please check back soon!"

UPDATED: The problem, "crisscrossed subdomains," has been fixed, according to Ushahidi.

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