Until now, Ushahidi has been most known as a service for reporting location during times of crisis. From its use during the earthquake in Haiti to, most recently, the revolution in Egypt and Libya, the service has been used to help humanitarian workers quickly report location using SMS technology. Today, the company has taken a bit of a turn with the release of its open-source check-in service.
Now, anyone with a bit of PHP knowledge and a server can create a Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places or check-in service of their own and keep their location data out of the hands of the public and corporate alike.
Earlier this year, the company announced that it would be releasing a mobile check-in app for their open-source Crowdmap service. Today, the app has gone live for the iPhone and makes it simple for anyone to create their own location-based check-in service of any variety. The app does one simple thing - allows users to send a picture and bit of text, attached to GPS coordinates, to any Crowdmap-based service. On the server side of things (which is also completely open source), everything can be set to either be public, private, or username and password protected. The data never hits Ushahidi's servers (though they do collect anonymized statistics through the app), meaning that there is no need to worry about your location data being collected and sold or misused in any way.
Brian Herbert, director of Crowdmap, called the app a "roll your own Foursquare," saying that, with its release, Ushahidi became the only open source check-in platform available across mobile platforms.
Why, you might ask, would you want to "roll your own Foursquare?" The answer is simple - complete control over your own data. At a recent discussion of privacy and location-based services, Reputation.com's COO Owen Tripp discussed the various ways that location data could be used to negatively impact the end-user, from insurance companies using it to deny coverage requests to employers spying on their workers. Just as Status.net and Diaspora work to provide open-source alternatives to Twitter and Facebook, respectively, Ushahidi could provide a number of alternatives to any of the mainstream check-in services. It could also lead to an entirely new realm of specialized check-in services wherein the users control how their data is stored and used.
Beyond the ability to create your own location based service, the Ushahidi checkin app also increases the usability of Ushahidi for smartphone-bearing crisis workers.
"In some cases, it doesn't make sense to fill out full-on reports on Ushahidi, because it can be complicated," said Herbert. "Sometimes you want to be able to just drop a check in on a map, with maybe a photo."
In certain crisis situation, said Herbert, the smartphone app would simply be a "more simple reporting mechanism for something that's happening right now."
If you download the app, make sure to check out SXSW.crowdmap.com where Ushahidi check-ins will be aggregated over the coming week.