Last week, a passer-by noticed how the large hoardings outside Vivekanandar Illam, facing Marina Beach, blocked the view of the iconic building. Enraged, he whipped out his smartphone, logged on to Ippodhu and wrote: “How is this allowed? The banners are in the walking space and we can’t see the historic building!” Ippodhu.com carried the story with pictures.
“On Ippodhu, a community information mobile application, the person complaining has the option to do more,” says Peer Mohamed, the team leader of the app/website. “He could have registered a complaint with the police, the Corporation or a relevant NGO, using the ‘Act’ option. This facility makes Ippodhu a valuable tool for beleaguered citizens to complain and puts it above other social media avenues.”
Users can choose between Tamil and English, and read the latest posts just as they would in a Twitter feed. While posting, your location is geo-tagged automatically; if you find that intrusive, you can post anonymously. There is no word limit and one can enlarge the font, write an essay, a note or a rant and post it under one of 15 categories. I decided to check out the app and created an account. My post went live in less than a minute. Then I moved to Ippodhu’s USP. I clicked‘Act’, chose ‘civic issue’ as the category, and posted a note about flooding in my locality. “It’s on Apple and Android as just text now, but expect picture and video features soon when the circulation hits the target,” says Peer. “My team of 12 journalists curates the feeds 24/7, allowing no commercials, ads or abusive language. We want to keep it non-controversial and people-friendly.” It’s crowd-sourced citizen journalism and civic participation for good governance.
“Talking about how the project started, Peer says, “I hit on the idea and checked with D. Chandrasekaran of the IIT-M Alumni Association and Avinash Mahalingam of the Incubation Cell. Both were impressed. That gave me the initial confidence. There were sceptics too, but I registered with Apple Store and Google Play. I was determined to do it, be it funding, crowd-funding or no-funding. Around that time, I won the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund grant hosted by the U.S. Consulate General Chennai to develop and launch this app. Among the 800 projects pitched from across the globe, Ippodhu was the only one from India. It met the innovativeness, competitiveness and the sustainability criteria.” To meet the twin conditions, he put in 20 per cent of the project cost and in “one year, my media company will adopt it fully to ensure sustainability.”
Peer is confident that updates will fill the gaps in Ippodhu. It has all 130 police stations in Chennai mapped. For government offices, the data is huge, so only landlines will appear when you click. But check out the larger picture: you have the IG to the registration-revenue department on call. Chennai Corporation’s official and mobile numbers are getting uploaded; some 1,000 NGOs and the major media houses have been listed. The target, Peer says, is 1, 00,000 users in the next three months, and then “you’ll see image and video options and automated moderation. Universities and colleges are next on the list.”
Ippodhu is about a smartphone app connecting people searching for necessary info; it’s about bringing together those who do good and those who need care. And “smartphone net-packs come at a mere Rs. 49. I let my colleagues take care of content and I focus on sales.” The app is simple, he says, consumes data in KB, not MB, won’t drain battery, net-pack or cash. “It’s a work in progress.”