So you’ve got a great idea for a user-contributed map you need to launch RIGHT NOW. Ushahidi’s Crowdmap makes it pretty easy, and hopefully this post makes it even easier. All examples shown are from TBD’s Crowdmap for D.C.’s election.

First of all, if you’re mapping a crisis, Crowdmap recommends checking our their Emergency Response Strategy first (pdf).

Also, check and see if anyone else has done your map idea with a Google Search. If someone else has already built a map of what you want to do in the same area, maybe you should just help them out instead of replicating the work.

The Quick Build

Sign up for a Crowdmap account at and log in.

1. Click on Create New Deployment

2. On the deployment setup page, pick a url, name and tagline for your map. Keep SEO in mind here to make it easier to find. (You can edit this later, so don’t sweat it too much). Click Finish.

3. Click on admin dashboard for your map or go to

This is your map’s Dashboard. Bookmark it. Your map is now live and activated. If you need to launch it right now, you can – though there’s further additions and customizations you can do. Note: With the default settings, people will only be able to submit reports on the site.

More after the jump (had to do it for images…)

Map Dashboard

Overview: Customizations and Settings

Click on Settings in the top right of the Dashboard.

Closeup On Map SettingsWebsite Settings

  • Enter an email address for emailed reports. Keep in mind this address should have POP access and a good spam filter.
  • Enter an email address to send out alerts (if people subscribe to them on-site). Spam and bounces are very likely, so you might not want to use your personal account.
  • If you choose to cluster reports on the map, it will display a number for reports in the same or nearby locations that a user can click on to see individual reports. See an example on TBD’s map.
  • If you have a Google Analytics code, enter it here. It’ll help you track your stats (though Crowdmap will also track your pageviews/visits/visitors).
  • If you have a WordPress account, you can use your Akismet key to block spam.
  • If you want users to be able to submit reports via Twitter, pick a hashtag to feed into your dashboard. Give a look first to make sure it isn’t already in use.

Map Settings

  • Pick your country if your map will only span one nation.
  • Pick your map provider. Google Maps Normal is the basic, but if you have an API key for something that better fits your map, enter it here.
  • Position the displayed map over your covered area with a decent zoom level. Keep in mind that the further away you are, the more clustered your reports will be (if you selected that option).


If you have SMS service through Clickatell or Frontline, you can enter those settings here. It will then allow users to text in reports. This is a good option for situations where those reporting will not have web access or smart phones.


If you want to receive reports via email, enter the POP or IMAP info here. You can get this from your email provider. If you use Gmail, your mail server host is and your port is 995. Make sure POP is turned on in your Gmail settings.

Manage Menu (top right)

Map categoriesCategories : If you’ll have different kinds of reports coming in, you can specify categories for your reports. These will be color-coded on the map according to your specifications. You can even pick your own icon to represent these reports, if you have one.

Forms: You can create a new form for on-site reporting if the default doesn’t meet with your needs. New forms will still have all of the features on the default, but you can also add new form fields to collect more information.

Sharing: This will create a link below your categories to other map installations. So far, I haven’t gotten his to work.

Pages: Creates new tabs on the public facing side of the map. This is good for an About Us, more info, a list of related links, etc. These blank pages will take html, but no JavaScript or embed elements.

News Feeds: Will import RSS feeds of your choosing to the area at the bottom right of the public-facing map. This is good for your site’s stories, blog posts or related info from outside sources.

Layers: Imports KMZ or KML files (or data sets at a URL) to create new data layers on the map. If you want to overlay available data with UGC data, this is where to do it (though I haven’t gotten it to work, there are Best Practices available).

Scheduler: Tells the map when to import from your Message sources (Twitter, email). If you don’t see reports coming in, but know they’ve been on the hashtag or sent to your email address, you might want to try here.

Users (top right)

Add users and permissions for those users in the map. This way, you don’t have to give our your admin login info if you want to add outside contributors to manage submissions.

Managing Incoming Reports

Map Reports


This collects all of your reports. Pending will show you unapproved reports filed on the website. Reports filed by email, SMS or Twitter do not come in as Reports. They come in as messages (under Messages tab) and you have to make them into reports.

The reports tab also houses all comments on reports. This is also where you go to download reports to your computer, if you’d like.


This is where your Email and Twitter reports come in. For them to show up on the map, you need to click Create Report for each incoming message. This will bring in the info from the message for you to complete and approve the report for the map. If you set up to accept SMS or Laconica reports, they’ll show up here too.

Messages>Message Type>Reporters

Monitor who is submitting to your map and manage those users. Do this by clicking on the Reporters sub-menu when you’re in the kind of messages you want to manage. It will give you a list of everyone reporting and how many reports they’ve sent. Click Edit next to their names to manage their trust level, or mark them as spam if they keep spamming. This will make future messages easier to approve if you have specified trusted users (and labeled spammers).

Note: If someone has submitted more than a few decent reports, you should thank them with their contact info provided.


This area will tell you visits, pageviews and the like (and it is sometimes different from what Google analytics will report). It will also break down stats on the kind, number and timing of reports.

What Users See

Election Map

Search box: Search reports on the top right

Page Tabs: Default pages and your custom pages show up here. The defaults are: Home; Reports – shows all approved reports; Submit a Report form; Get Alerts – Users enter email or cell numbers to get alerts from the map; Contact Us – Form submits to your account’s email address.

Map: Upon first looking at the map, users will see the one color, clustered reports (if this is turned on in your settings)

Categories: By clicking on a category on the right (if you have them set up), the map will only display those color-coded reports.

Timeline: Located below the map, the timeline displays approved reports over time. Hit the play button along the top of it to see the map display reports as they were approved. This is awesome, by the way.

Incidents: See all approved reports as a list along the bottom left of the page. Click on the reports to see all of the available info and comment.

Feeds: Specified RSS feeds appear in the bottom right of the page.