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doing something better

4 minute read
by Alex Hillman

In my last post (just a few hours ago, I know), I mentioned how I was most fulfilled when I was doing.

I wanted to further clarifiy that point, in that I was most fulfilled when I was doing something that makes life better. Makes the world better. Makes something better.

In the continuing effort to get off my soapbox, I wanted to highlight someone that I met recently that continues to impress the daylights out of me and inspires something unique, I would hope, in all of us.

I was walking back from the lunch break at BlogOrlando along side a guy named Erik. Erik and I were exchanging small talk, he asked me if I was from nearby, and when I said I’d come from Philadelphia, he first remarked how far I’d hiked…then asked, “oh…are you the guy from IndyHall”?

We chatted about coworking, why I was in Orlando (fact is, I really dig the scene there and am continually impressed by their potential). The walk back didn’t really afford much time beyond the ability for me to find out that Erik lived in the general area and was also involved in the local social tech community.

I was ashamed at the end of the day to find out that the closing speaker was the same Erik, Erik Hersman. Moments prior to him taking the stage, my buddy Alex started talking up this guy and how rad he was. He didn’t even get close.

As it turns out, Erik is a long time techie. Furthermore, while his family is in Orlando, he grew up in and continues to spend a great deal of time in Africa. He’s a notable technology leader in regions like Kenya and Sudan, where he grew up. I’ve since subscribed to his personal blog, WhiteAfrican, as it gives some insight into the very cool stuff Erik is up to: most recently, some great breakdowns from during and after BarcampJozi (that’s Johannasburg, as I learned). I also now check AfriGadget, which highlights gadgetry and handmade innovation in Africa. Read the first page of this blog. You will have a whole new outlook on technology.

On WhiteAfrican, Erik recently posted follow up from MobileActive08 (also in Johannasburg) which was attend by Blaine Cook, formerly of Twitter, and Rabble (who created Yahoo’s FireEagle platform). What do these three guys have in common, and what does that have to do with Africa?

Well, that’s where my admiration for Erik comes in. In the beginning of this year, he helped create a tool called “Uashahidi“. Erik’s knowledge of technology in a place where not many of us understand it’s importance (or availability) allowed him to leverage technology, specifically mobile technology, to make something better.

There was some serious political turmoil leading to violence in Kenya towards the beginning of 2008. Erik knew that mobile technology was reasonably ubiquitous, even if it only was the simplest forms available. He took that as a prompt to prototype a system that took citizen updates from mobile, email, and web, and map them: both for journalistic intentions, as well as for relief purposes. From the website:

The core [Ushahidi] engine is built on the premise that gathering crisis information from the general public provides new insights into events happening in near real-time.

Think about that for a second.

This was not building something to cut jobs, improve project turnaround, or increase profits.

This was not something built to chat, discuss, banter, whine, or kvetch.

This was not something built to gather friends.

This was not something built with a “market” in mind.

Ushahidi leveraged two of the most important technology concepts of our present: mobile and socially contributed content for the purpose of making something that really sucked – a violent nation – and gave it simple tools to make it better.

As you might imagine, this project caught the eye of the news and Erik and the team (all of whom I now desperately want to meet) and got some much deserved press. Since, they’ve secured funding and grown the team, and will be launching a new version of Ushahidi this fall. Open Source.

We’re talking about an application that can be applied to real life problems domestically and abroad because it uses a least common denominator and takes into account some basic human interaction.

How is Ushahidi different from most other (not all, just most) “social software”?

I’d venture to say the same way “coworking” stands out from “desk sharing”.

Ushahidi was created because someone cared.

This is the kind of doing that I like to see. This is the kind of doing that I hope to accomplish.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.