Using Drupal for Good

Ok, so I admit, isn’t Drupal. Obviously. But you know what? I’m more of a fan of Drupal than I am of WordPress. I may even move this into Drupal soon… but that’s beside the point.

I just sent an email to some of my coworkers at Acquia, because I think that Drupal could be used to help the situation in Pakistan. Here’s the large majority of that email:

For those of you following me on twitter, you know that I’ve been very vocal about encouraging the response to the floods in Pakistan to increase; I also see myself as a “volunteer knowledge transfer agent” of sorts on twitter, and I did the same thing after the Haiti earthquake. I think I’m in a bit of a unique position to do this, because I have friends and experiences with several nonprofit organizations, but I’m also sitting behind a computer all day, understand a lot of the technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes, and can pass on knowledge hopefully to NGOs who are following me, and who are “listening.”

You may or may not be familiar with CrisisCommons. It’s a website of programmers, technicians, volunteers, etc… from around the world who donate their time during crises to build web platforms, increase the flow of knowledge, etc… related to the region / country in crisis. It really got going after the Haiti earthquake, and that’s when I heard about it and volunteered during 1 of their “crisis camps” in Boston and became a member of their website.

Recently, there’s been a lot of tweets flowing around about Volunteers that are needed to help read incoming SMS messages from the field, translate them (if necessary), categorize them, and spit them back out so that people on the field can access them.

I’m thinking Drupal can do all of this, automatically. Views, taxonomy, building a simple module that would read certain twitter feeds (hashtags) (is there anything that does this already?), and then it could go to town. I’d even be willing to take one of the leads in building said Drupal site.

I am working on getting in touch with the people at Crisis Commons & Ushahidi to find out if this would be beneficial. My gut tells me “yes” because Drupal is so powerful – it can do all of this automatically, but in addition, the site could be built out to include other features as well, like importing all of the different maps that Google, OpenStreetMap, & Ushahidi have built and put them into a central location to view, we could build out a low-bandwidth version of the site that could be loaded quickly from places in Pakistan, etc…

If you want to be involved in this project, please contact me or post a comment below.


4 thoughts on “Using Drupal for Good

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Life is Short » Using Drupal for Good --

  2. Evan Donovan

    I think that the people at Development Seed have some of these capabilities worked out already in Drupal for some of their other NGOs projects. I wonder if anyone has contacts with them, or if they’re already working on something…

  3. Rob Munro

    This is a great idea David! In fact, some of us working on crowdsourcing crisis relief have more of a background in automation – you can see a comparison of techniques in this presentation and its references:

    We are already using some basic automation techniques in Pakistan where very high precision is possible. For everything else, we rely on the kindness of strangers (and quite a few friends!).

    Something to support this could definitely be built within Drupal, but the tricky part would be extending Drupal with the necessary natural language modeling and machine-learning technologies.

  4. David Post author

    Thanks for the response! Sorry that it took me a couple of days to respond. As I mentioned in my email to you, I missed your initial email by a couple days! You make a fantastic point in slide #35 in the link above. “Keyword based models are suboptimal” in automating techniques such as the one I have proposed to do with Drupal. And this makes me think and wonder whether we could really pull it off.

    As I outlined in my initial blog post, Drupal could certainly do the raw translating, and provide a good front-end to displaying the data, allowing users to easily search for keywords and categorization, etc… What would be difficult to do, however, is building the behind-the-scenes classification system – which I had initially envisioned doing with keywords.

    I don’t have any experience in Scheme, but I’ve been glanced at it a couple of times, and I would bet that this would be an idea programming language to build a platform that would do what you have proposed.

    Perhaps for now, Drupal could initially help by making a rough translation, pulling the keywords, making a guess based on those keywords, and adding multiple possible keywords / categories to a text message that arrived, making it easier for the crowdsourcing volunteers to read and make the final classification.

    Just a thought.

    In the long term, I think that something totally outside of Drupal – and even outside of PHP or other common front-end web languages, is needed to do the heavy lifting of what you have described in your presentation.

    By the way, I’m getting involved in a Disaster Accountability project with Drupal – we are going to start development on the next generation of the current Details are here:

    Thanks again,


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