Chris Blattman

Google Earth activism?

The Google Earth blog identifies surface to air missile sites around the world.

Ethan Zuckerman also notes that digital activists in Kenya are mapping outbreaks of violence across the country.

Meanwhile, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Google have begun to map violent incidents in the crisis in Darfur (and of the Holocaust).

All this is fascinating. But someone has yet to explain to me why any of this is useful. Are any of these exercises more substantial and less stomach-turning than the ever-expanding crop of humanitarian video games?

Some other finds reported by Google Earth:

4 Responses

  1. Can we use Google Earth to track things like U.S. foreign aid flows? Over half comes back to D.C. beltway area to contracting firms, so it would be a crazy flow patters.

  2. Like you, I doubt that those games have much impact; on the other hand, they get a lot of attention, so perhaps I’m wrong.

    I’ve been involved with the Holocaust Museum’s project since the beginning as an advisor of sorts, and I think there is value in it. My interest isn’t so much in the advocacy angle (that plays bigger in the US than the rest of the world) but in the way these tools could be used on the ground.

    In the case of, I think that there is value to tracking human rights violations – certainly it provides a good basis for analysis, but also for security management, if we can identify trends. In the end, it’s their value as analytical tools that is interesting – but we’re definitely in the early stages.

  3. so i think the creators of these sites would argue that they are creating awareness (although many of these are obscure enough that i’m not sure how true that is). i remember using that argument in college with some of my pseudo-activism.

    i’d be interested to know just what the return on that kind of awareness building is: it might be low average returns but an occasional huge hit (e.g., when you affect one really influential person).

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