Have you noticed a lot going on lately? Several Arab countries are renegotiating their governance; storms, floods and earthquakes are making life hard in the Pacific; and pirates are expanding their reach in the Indian Ocean. There may be other things going on, too. How do you keep up? Where do you find meaningful analysis? You're not still waiting for the evening news, I hope.
Business Insider shared this map by Citi's Tina Fordham this morning. It's similar to something I started drawing to explain the context to my son, except Tina kept going and finished the map. I like the idea of summarizing the protests and political developments on a map, because it invites the viewer to think about cross-border effects. The Arab Spring uprisings have spread throughout the region, so looking at the entire region is useful.
What would make it more useful would be to expand its scope, make the map interactive, and update it in near-real time. In short, make it a dashboard for political unrest. So, I started looking for one. What I learned is that real-time incident maps and intelligent summaries may be mutually exclusive.
Update: The Economist made an interactive map of the region that presents political and economic indicators, but no current awareness.
Trying out global situation maps
The RSOE Emergency and Disaster Information Service is a dashboard for the world that comes close to what I'm looking for. It pulls information on natural disasters and a few other categories into an impressive application that combines maps, a table of incidents, and incident details. What it doesn't do is cover political unrest or offer broader summaries—but it's free, and it does cover events that don't make the news.
Global Incident Map is another Google Map mashup of incident reports. Incident details and current updates are limited to subscribers, but there's a free trial. The developer also offers other maps of specific topics of interest. The design—especially the flashing icons—has kept me from the trial so far, but it might be interesting to compare to the RSOE map.
Maplecroft reports on risks and risk indicators globally. You'll have to pay for their maps and analysis, but it might be a good investment if your interest is more than personal. The map at right is a top-level summary from their Global Risks Atlas 2011.
ReliefWeb generates maps of countries and regions experiencing emergencies of all types. I'd like to see them create the global situation map, but the maps they do provide can be quite informative. Today, for example, they have a map that reports on humanitarian agencies in, and refugees leaving, Libya.
The map equivalent of a Twitter search is Ushahidi, a crowdsourced crisis monitoring platform that maps reports sent in my email, Twitter, SMS, and probably semaphore in the next version. This example is tracking recovery efforts after the Christchurch earthquake.
I haven't found a directory of Ushahidi deployments, but it's easy enough to Google Ushahidi Egypt or look through the Twitter account (@ushahidi) to find the maps. Update: The new Ushahidi Community site has a map of current deployments. The field reports are about as far from high-level analysis as it gets, but if you want details…
My new secret weapon
STRATFOR is an online publisher of political, economic, and military intelligence that has provided excellent coverage of the Arab Spring events. In theory, traditional media do much of the same work, but I've found that STRATFOR regularly picks up angles that aren't mentioned in the media, and they don't lose track of the rest of the world when the media focus on the topic of the week. It's a paid service, but they offer a free version to test the waters.
As we've seen in other domains, software doesn't replace analysts; it gives them new tools and data to work with. So I'm not surprised that the best sources I've found so far require subscriptions. It beats trying to process the firehose, and I do like being informed.