Pitfalls and promises of crowdsourcing platforms after disasters

Another day of disasters and social media. (Here is the first.)

Per a recent paper [pdf] by three researchers, crowdsourcing or groupsourcing information after disasters is important, mostly because coordination plays such a crucial role. While social media -- especially platforms like Ushahidi offer a lot of people an easy way to provide information from a variety of media (phones, email, twitter, etc.) -- social media does not have an "inherent coordination capability" to share information, resources among many different groups.

This lack of collaborative spaces is social media's greatest drawback, the authors argue. "Microblogs and crisis maps do not provide a mechanism for apportioning response re- sources, so multiple organizations might respond to an individual re- quest at the same time," they write. 

Secondly, crowdsourcing applications do not provide all necessary information for relief efforts. Geo-tag accuracy can be questioned, they say. Duplicating reports remains a problem, along with fraud reporting. 

However, crowdsourcing applications are very quick, providing near real-time information. (An Ushahidi platform was running from servers in the United States just two hours after the Haitian earthquake.) Report verification is still a work in progress. While groups can automatically filter through reports -- photos, videos and comments -- to verify their veracity, some platforms only provide small-scale verification for their maps. 

The authors look forward: 

Crowdsourcing integrated with crisis maps has been a powerful tool in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Future crowdsourcing applications must provide capabilities to better manage unstructured messages and enhance streaming data...Furthermore, metrics that gauge the success of crowdsourcing and coordination systems for disaster relief will be designed and leveraged for system evaluation and improvement. 

Harnessing the Crowdsourcing Power of Social Media for Disaster Relief [pdf]
Huiji Gao and Geoffrey Barbier, Arizona State University
Rebecca Goolsby, US Office of Naval Research