Google announced a partnership with the World Bank today to make Google Map Maker data more accessible to government organizations in disaster scenarios. Google Map Maker is the tool for crowd-sourcing the editing and maintenance of Google’s world map. Its user-generated data include locations of hospitals, schools, settlements, water sources and minor roads.
Access to these data will help governments, NGOs, researchers and individuals plan without waiting for the changes to be approved and added to the official maps. World Bank partner organizations, such as government and U.N. agencies, can contact World Bank offices to request access to the data. Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal and Haiti will pilot the project.
Google’s New Gatekeeper
This partnership could improve response time and effectiveness in crises in underserved areas of the world. It’s just a shame that Google has decided to compete with Ushahidi and other open-source efforts to solve this problem. Access to Google Map Maker data is privileged information, and Google has chosen the mother of all elite gatekeepers, the World Bank, to facilitate this program.
The World Bank has supported much-needed online mapping efforts, such as the April 2011 project in South Sudan that enabled Google to put the new country on the map. It has also financially backed apps supporting economic development in a worldwide contest for software developers. In partnership with academic institutions, the World Bank has also backed a Web-based knowledge platform for urban development.
These are all great efforts, but they establish a familiar pattern for the World Bank. In Web technology, just as in global economic development, the World Bank has positioned itself as an unavoidable, privileged gatekeeper, and this time Google helped.
No More Open Source
We’ve reached out to Ushahidi for comment on the news, and we’ll update with the response. While Ushahidi‘s non-profit, open-source efforts carry on, Google is closing off access to its mapping platform upon which great works of software were once built. Having realized the enormous value of Google Maps as a resource, Google decided to start charging for API access last year.
That’s Google’s commercial prerogative, but its proprietary efforts are now in competition with the open-source community. Today’s partnership with the World Bank is a clearer example than the murky history of access to the Google Maps API. Google Map Maker is a moderated Google program, and Google has selected the World Bank as an arbiter of its data.
Last December, Google overhauled Map Maker’s editing tools to make it easier for any Google Maps user to add new data.
What do you think? Is the World Bank a good choice for Google as a partner? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Two of many challenges developing countries face are unsafe water and a lack of affordable energy. With the help of a new $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ghana may be able to combine these lacks into an asset in the form of biodiesel.
The grant, for a “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility” in the country’s capital of Accra, will turn human waste from sewage into biodiesel and methane that can be used as fuel.
The project not only produces energy from waste, but tackles a major sanitation problem common in cities that are unable to pipe sewage to treatment plants. Bacteria in sewage can easily make its way into water sources used for cooking, drinking and irrigation, leaving locals, especially children, susceptible to dying of diarrhea-related diseases such as cholera.
Columbia University’s Dr. Kartick Chandran will lead the project. In collaboration with Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and Ashley Murray founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, the team will build a biorefinery to recover energy from fecal matter, turning it into a useful resource instead of something to be inconveniently discarded. When completed, the project will reduce fecal sludge in Accra’s water supply and offer an affordable energy source to its residents.
The Gates Foundation estimates that 2.5 million people, or half of the world’s developing world population, doesn’t have access to safe sanitation. Chandran is familiar with Ghana, having worked for two years as faculty advisor to the an Engineers without Borders team there.
This isn’t the first time fecal matter has been used to create energy, but it could be a step towards a brighter future for areas struggling with wastewater sanitation and high fuel costs.
Here is video of Chandran discussing some of his wastewater treatment research.
To enter, make a digital video that answers the question, “Why do you want to help Worldreader bring ‘Books to All’ to the developing world?” Viewers will vote to determine who wins the opportunity to work with the group in Africa.
The contest is being administered by the Spanish travel company eDreams in a “special white label integration via Facebook,” according to Worldreader Director of Communications Susan Moody-Prieto.
Upload your video to the eDreams Facebook page for consideration. The deadline is March 30 and the winner will be the person who submits the video with the most public votes by the end of April 1. The winner will be announced on April 4.
The winner will have a chance to work with Worldreader on their Ghana program and have everything paid for. Moody-Prieto outlines the trip.
“(The winner) will be flown down to Ghana, met by someone on our team, spend a day touring Accra, then they’ll head out to the schools where we have the e-readers and help Worldreader with reading exercises with the students and help out teachers. They’ll do that for a couple of days, and then we’ll be following up with some of the students who we filmed last time, going with them into their homes again and talking to their parents about how they are using the e-readers in the family.”
Don’t expect a luxury safari, however, she warns.
“It ain’t 5 star luxury living. When someone asked me about the hotel’s thread count, I said…um, 5? But it’s the real deal: volunteering in the middle of no-where with this amazing technology that is going to change the lives of these students and eventually all of Africa and the developing world.”
Google has extended its Gmail SMS chat functionality to three more African countries, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.
Gmail SMS allows anyone worldwide to communicate with fellow Gtalk chat users even when they’re away from their computer. This year, Google added the extension to Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and Zambia.
Africa is a continent of mobile users so this tool seems like a good move by Google.
Gmail users can send and receive SMS messages for free using the service. (Non-Gmail users can SMS for regular text charges.)
Divon Lan, Google Product Manager for Sub Saharan Africa, wrote on the Google Africa Blog said the mobile carriers that provide the service include MTN, Uganda Telecom and Orange in Uganda, Vodacom in Tanzania and Airtel and Airtel and TNM in Malawi.
Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by Matthew Prince, CEO of a CloudFlare, which came in as a close runner-up at the last TechCrunch Disrupt. We asked him to give us an update on the startup since Disrupt.
It’s hard to imagine a web performance and security service “going viral,” especially one Mike Arrington described during the Disrupt awards ceremony as “Muffler Repair for the Internet,” but a glance through our Twitter feed gives credence to one of Silicon Valley’s axioms: if you make a great service that solves a real problem, users will come.
And come they have! While I have to confess our engineering team was initially bummed about losing to a demo of a website that could read Wikipedia articles aloud, I’m happy to report that they’ve channeled any frustration into building an incredible service that improves the lives of millions of web users every day.
A quick snapshot of the four months since our Disrupt launch:
- Tens of thousands of websites have signed up with CloudFlare to be faster and more secure
- We grew from a trickle of traffic to powering more than 1.2 billion monthly page views in January
- Nearly 3% of the Internet’s users (approximately 50 million unique monthly visitors) passed through our network last month
- By making sites faster (a 40% performance boost on average) we’ve helped Internet surfers collectively save nearly 1,000 years worth of time
- And we’ve stopped nearly 600 million attacks launched against our users’ websites
We’ve done no additional PR, marketing, or outreach since Disrupt and yet every day hundreds of new websites sign up for CloudFlare. From the Disrupt stage, we reached an incredible number of users worldwide. Today, the websites on the system span the globe from San Francisco (where CloudFlareis headquartered), to Accra (where we power the Official Government Portal of the Nation of Ghana), to Islamabad (where we power the Pakistani version of the IRS). We power sites for actors (Michael Rooker), popular bands (Counting Crows & Jack Johnson), and ecommerce shops like the one belonging to Lisa Freede. Lisa is a jewelry designer who was featured on The Today Show earlier this week. We’re proud that CloudFlare kept her site online and taking orders in spite of the staggering traffic generated by her appearance on the show.
Beyond introducing CloudFlare to the world, TechCrunch Disrupt was the event that really brought our team together. We actually launched the service live on stage in front of thousands of Silicon Valley’s thought leaders. That’s pressure. Nothing motivates better than a little fear, and knowing we would soar or crash in front of a live, influential audience had us all cranking for the months leading up to Disrupt. Even as I was back stage, the CloudFlare engineering team was in the audience with a list the final 27 bugs that needed to be fixed. I watched our IM channel as our team banged through the problems. When Michelle and I stepped on stage, they were down to 8. By the time we stepped off, they squashed the last few, flipped the switch, and we were live across five data centers on three continents.
No one on our team will ever forget the experience. If you’re a startup thinking of launching at Disrupt, that’s the only way to do it. You may not win the trophy, but you’ll receive something else far more important.
Our team is growing fast, we have a new office in downtown San Francisco, and we all still come to work each day excited to solve real, meaningful, hard problems. While we may just be doing “Muffler Repair for the Internet,” it turns out the Internet’s muffler is broken and needs fixing. And, as you’ll see from the video below, we’re having a great time while getting that done.
Emerging markets need the Internet. Whether they’re looking up commodity prices or contacting loved ones overseas, users in developing countries like South Africa and Ghana need a way to get online and this unique device from Vodafone looks like a logical and quite elegant way to do just that.
The device is a keyboard with a standard set of RCA cables sprouting out of the back. You plug it into any TV, new or old, and turn it on. Instantly you have 2G or 3G access to an Opera Mini browser, locally relevant news, as well as games, a dictionary, and a text editor. Instead of a PC, a user would plug this in and use it as necessary, downloading data at 90% compression.
2010 was a big year for Opera’s mobile browser, Opera Mini. The browser’s iPhone app was approved, saw one million downloads in the first day and since the mobile browser has been growing like gangbusters. Today, Opera released its state of the mobile report showing that Opera finished the year off with additional growth.
In December 2010, Opera Mini had over 85.5 million users, a 6.8% increase from November 2010 and an 84.7% increase in unique users since December 2009. Opera Mini users viewed over 46.7 billion pages in December 2010, which is a 4.6% percent increase since November, and a 125.5% increase in page views since December 2009.
In December 2010, Opera Mini users generated over 706 million MB of data for operators worldwide. Since November, the data consumed went up by 4.3%. Data in Opera Mini is compressed up to 90%. If this data were uncompressed, Opera Mini users would have viewed over 6.5 petabytes of data in December.
With the holiday shopping season in full swing in December, Opera took a look at traffic to e-commerce giant Amazon, with percentage of Opera Mini users who accessed Amazon (per month) went from 3.8% in January 2010 to 7.4% in December.
Shoppers in the U.S. and Germany doubled their number of page views to Amazon towards the end of the year, as compared to the start of 2010, as mobile shopping heated up.
Opera also delved into usage in ten countries in Africa (South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Sudan, Libya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia), with page views in these countries increasing by 365%, unique users up 176% and data transferred up by 331%. Sudan and Zimbabwe lead the top 10 countries of the region in terms of page-view growth (4908.2 % and 2321.6 %, respectively).
And in the top 10 African countries, Facebook and Google vied for the website with the most visits. In 6 out of the top 10 countries, Facebook was number one. In the remaining 4 countries, Google was number one. YouTube, Yahoo, and Wikipedia were also highly visited in these countries.
Imagine enough forest to cover the state of Florida. According to a recent report (pdf), a downturn in illegal logging has protected that amount of forest land–some 42 million acres–over the past decade.
The decrease is a good start, London think tank Chatam House authors say, but there is still more work to do.
“We’re a quarter of the way there,” said Sam Lawson, one of the report’s authors. He expressed the hope that newer regulations–such as a European law passed last week that will ban the import of illegal timber by 2012–would cut the amount of illegal logging even further. [AP]
During the last decade, the report says, Cameroon, the Brazilian Amazon, and Indonesia have decreased logging between 50 and 75 percent. Meanwhile, the seven studied consumer and processing countries have decreased illegally harvested wood imports by 30 percent.
Among those importing countries is the United States, which in 2008 became the first country to ban all imports of illegally logged plants and plant products, including furniture and paper. Europe’s ban, passed earlier this month, will go into effect in 2012.
Still, despite these laws and others in exporting countries, a good deal of illegally sourced lumber still makes it to market. Some exporting countries, like Ghana and Malaysia, haven’t reduced their output, and “processing countries” like China and Vietnam can allow illegal lumber to pass through. Finally, even in the United States some importers don’t abide by the ban.
[C]ompanies still often turn a blind eye, “prioritizing profits over ethical standards,” according to the report’s lead author, Sam Lawson…. But even a total end to illegal timber imports wouldn’t solve the problem, as the contraband would likely find its way to “less sensitive” markets, such as the Middle East, according to Lawson. “If the United States just shuts off its market—even if it could—it would still be a great problem,” he says. [Nature News]
The reports’ authors also outline the consequences if the current illegal harvest does not stop. The report cites the amount of money lost to illegal logging and also logging’s environmental consequences–it estimates that forest destruction is responsible for up to 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities.
As a specific example, the report estimates that the 42 million acres mentioned above store 1.2 billion tons of Co2 and are worth 6.5 billion dollars (if harvested legally). The forests’ also serve as home and livelihood for many of these producer countries’ people.
The stakes are high, said lead author Sam Lawson. “Up to a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on forests, and reductions in illegal logging are helping to protect their livelihoods,” he said. [AFP]
Image: flickr / Nirudha Perera
mahiskali writes “A parasite commonly found in cats, Toxoplasma gondii , has an unnerving relation to World Cup victories by country. (This parasite was discussed here twice in 2006.) Toxo can be found in almost every type of mammal, from rats to humans. The overall goal of the parasite is to end up in a feline stomach, which is the only place it can reproduce. In other mammals, humans for example, the parasite heads for the brain. It is estimated that nearly 1/3 of the human population has a latent Toxo infection, with individual countries having infection rates varying from 6% (Korea) to 92% (Ghana). Countries with greater incidence of this parasitic infection in their populations tend to win more World Cups than those without. The article, writtem by a Stanford University neuroscientist, goes on to try out various rationales for such a correlation, ranging from increased testosterone to increased dissent of authority — all symptoms of a Toxo infection. Now we just need to find a parasite that causes an inability to referee properly, and we’ll have this whole World Cup business all sorted out.”