The Commons Initiative at SF State

Image: Photos of SF State students

Humanitarian FOSS and the Earthquake in Nepal.

I was introduced to Free Software in 1996. It's been an interesting ride since then. We've seen several phases of re-oranizing, redefining, and leveraging the core concepts of Free Software and Open Source Software (yes, those are two different things. Similar, but different). Code is written to solve a specific problem, and then it gets used to solve a very different problem. That's the beauty of the remix that comes from FOSS. Humanitarian FOSS is an interesting nexus.

Working with OLPC, a lot of the software we design and build can easily fall under the Humanitarian FOSS label, but we usually look at it in the Education FOSS space. Through these projects, I've made may friends all over the world. So, when I heard about the earthquake in Nepal, my first thoughts were with my friends at OLENepal, the education non-profit that works with OLPC laptops in Nepal. What we've heard so far has been reassuring thus far. They all seem to be safe.

In keeping up with their plight, I started to see familiar names and projects pop up: OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi, Sahana to name a few. I also heard from Danishka Navin, a Sri Lankan from Singapore, who works on the Fedora Project and a Mozillan, wanting to somehow help the relief effort in Nepal. I saw posts on Facebook by Arun Ganesh who I met via the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco. His team in Bengaluru (Bangalore) was working on mapping relief assets in Nepal on OpenStreetMap. Then, I heard from Milo van der Linden who lives in the Netherlands, about activity on HOT - Humanitarian Open StreetMap Team. Three geographically different parts of the world, helping in one way or another, using Humanitarian FOSS platforms.

In the last 24 hours, I've been talking locally to Sandeep Giri, who's originally from Nepal. Sandeep runs Gham Power in Nepal and we've talked about power needs for mobile phone charging, lanterns and such, and once again, we are looking to leverage the OpenStreetMap platform to connect the dots.

Wired has a great article on how mapping has helped the Nepal earthquake relief effort. Here's another from MapBox.

We are looking to see what is needed to help out on that front, including organizing a hackathon on campus to help with the ongoing mapping effort. More on that in a bit. Stay tuned at @SFStateCommons for more.


Update: We are hosting a mapping hackathon on May 5, 2015. Details here.

SF State Home