An impressive and interesting critique. I wanted to add a couple of points/questions.
1 You say: "Crowdsourced information – that is, information voluntarily submitted in an open call to the public – will not ever provide the sort of detail that aid agencies need to procure and supply essential services to entire populations."
I wonder if anyone organising - for example - the supply of clean water to Port-au-Prince soon after the earthquake needed very much detail from the general public at all.
Some idea of where to find population concentrations, key facilities and the operational context (local partners, security, roads etc), might be enough in the early stages.
2. If a 4636-type system is established to gather urgent individual needs, what ethical and practical obligations ensue from gathering that information? What if response is unlikely? What should be the governance that prevents it being a well-intentioned but cruel hoax? Or will the wisdom of the crowd weed out the underperformers naturally?
Three questions on crowdsourcing humanitarian need (post Haiti,
Ushahidi, EIS, 4636 etc)
1. What level of individual user requirement information is useful to
a provider of social services (in normal circumstances or in crisis)?
Bluntly, is it useful in a practical sense for thousands of hungry
people to be enabled to say that they are hungry in x using technology
If you were running a 24-hour hospital, would you want everybody who
was sick in your area to text you?
2: On the other hand, can't the current providers of emergency relief
services find a way to do better using the rich data and feedback loop
new systems might provide? A generic response of "your call is
valuable to us" or "be patient" on a 21st century 911 (should we coin
the "4636″ message?) is surely lame at best?
The rubble of Port-au-Prince could be the ground zero of radically
more accountable and responsive relief operations or social service
But are there examples of service providers right now that are making
use of that detail and volume of data to do a better job of delivery?
3: If a 4636-type system is established to gather urgent individual
needs, what ethical and practical obligations ensue from gathering
that information? What is the governance and the minimum back office
which prevents it being a cruel hoax? Or is it simply a matter of
reputation and survival of the most effective?