Is Laconica the best microblogging platform for aid agencies?

by Jon Thompson on March 26, 2009

Following my last post Rob Allen left a comment pointing me toward the open source microblogging platform Laconica.  I skipped right past Laconi.ca a week or so ago but thanks to the redirect I have dug a little bit deeper into Laconica’s offerings and I like what I see.

Laconica is a Free and Open Source microblogging platform that users can run on their own servers and modify it however they see fit.  It offers organizations a safe and secure way to microblog about their operations.  In the midst of an emergency there is so much information flying around that it’s best to have it all behind a firewall and not out there on someone else’s server.

CNET interviewed the creator of Laconica, Evan Prodromou, in October of 2008 and in it Evan laid out some of the details:

I made the software open source, so you can take the software that runs Identica and install it on your own server. Maybe you’re involved with a Web community or you have a group of friends that like to talk or maybe you’re in business and you want people in your business talking to each other in the enterprise. You can install the software and tailor it just for your group.

The software is available for download from Identica and it’s pretty easy to set up. It runs on PHP and MySQL, which you can get on pretty much on any hosting service. So my goal is to make it very easy to install and have lots of people installing their own systems and using it.

The Laconica site has a long list of servers where you can see the platform in action.  Here are a couple of screenshots so that you can see what it looks like in the wild:

Laconi.ca

Laconi.caAid agencies are always looking for ways to improve communications and I think microblogging is the next sensible step in the evolutionary process.  There are a lot of murmurs about the marginalization of corporate email and how social stream platforms like microblogs will replace it and while I don’t think email will vanish overnight I do think that there are better ways to communicate information between teams deployed to anywhere from 25 to 85 countries around the world.

One of the main advantages is that microblogs are easily accessible from handsets such as the iPhone and a variety of Nokia models, more so than email, and require less bandwidth.  That means that an emergency team member on the edge of a spotty network in Chad can send 140 characters of essential information to his team which might be spread throughout ten different countries while to do the same via email would require breaking out the Inmarsat BGAN satellite modem.  And, while an Operations officer in DC might want to follow streams from all locations he might only want to push info to a select group which is also an option with Laconi.ca.  The possibilities are limitless and with the opening of the Ovi Store over at Nokia.com where developers can publish there own Apps handset productivity should soon hit an all time high.

Links embedded in microposts could serve up documents, files, images, etc from an organization’s secure server and it shouldn’t be too hard to encrypt transmissions and the information they contain.  Links could also pull up map data that is cached on the phone and a logs officer in Indo could even snap a pic of a QR code on a shipment in a warehouse, have it converted to text, and then uploaded to the stream in order to notify the folks stateside that a shipment has been received.  Finally, much like with TwitPic a photo of a borehole could be uploaded with the appropriate #hashtag, link and even GPS coordinates so that Wat/San team members in various offices or the field could then assess it’s condition.

This ability to quickly spread information throughout an organization is invaluable and with the playing field slowly leveling for aid workers at all levels we’ll soon see a data surplus within organizations.  In order to properly manage this information overload organizations are going to have to invest in the proper tools and a free application like Laconica might be the best place to start.

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Mainstreaming ICT » Some excellent recent commentary on ICT4D
March 31, 2009 at 2:11 am

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