“Location” was one of the buzzwords of 2010, but arguably some of the most interesting developments weren’t how people checked in via Foursquare and the like. Rather, they were the ways in which people used mobile phones and mapping to report other things. The most notable example of this is crisis-mapping platform Ushahidi, which enables people to contribute reports during crisis situations either via SMS or the Internet. This real-time data is used for mapping and visualizations in the service of humanitarian response efforts. And to that end, Ushahidi has been described as “check-ins with a purpose.”

According to Ushahidi, “check-in” – the sort of action more readily associated with location-based networking apps – via its platform has really been “only a metaphor.” But that’s changing now that Ushahidi is launching a new tool, Crowdmap:CI, that will make noting your location (and making location notes) easier.

Ushahidi launched Crowdmap in the middle of last year. Crowdmap is a easy-to-install, hosted version of Ushahidi – the equivalent of WordPress.com blogs for WordPress, perhaps.

The new tool Crowdmap:CI (or Crowdmap Checkins) will function on both Ushahidi and Crowdmap and will allow users to create ad-hoc check-in communities, complete with mobile apps and web portals. Crowdmap:CI is designed to further simplify the creation of annotated location points. As Jon Gosier writes in the blog post announcing the new product, “Sometimes users just want to drop quick notes that represent data points allowing them to enter details later. For instance: the locations of wells while touring a rural village, or potholes around a metropolitan city, or simply dropping pins while on a vacation for the memories of where to return to. Crowdmap:CI is an attempt to make this data entry process quicker, allowing users to focus on location first, and everything else later.”

Why use Ushahidi and not Foursquare or Gowalla to check in?

Crowdmap:CI will allow you to keep your check-ins and notes private and give you control over who can see your data. You can deploy the service within a crisis and/or particular group, so data you share doesn’t necessarily have to go to others.

The points that the different users within a group make can be viewed individually or within one map. This will be useful, for example, if individuals have different mapping assignments.

The beta version of the Crowdmap:CI app is available for Android, and an iPhone version is on the way. The service is free, but there are premium options for those organizations wanting their own rewards and badges or needing to have a large number of users checking in at once, options for creating your own rewards and badges.

An open-source platform, Ushahidi was developed in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed presidential election in 2007. Ushahidi means “testimony” in Swahili, pointing to the projects roots in citizen journalism. Ushahidi was used as part of the response efforts to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile last year, as well as to numerous other crises and disasters.