smssage is a realtime communication platform, requiring only widely-available consumer electronics and knowledge of JavaScript to use. Running the Smssync Android application by Ushahidi, text messages sent to any Android phone are relayed to the server, which forwards messages to all connected web clients, and hosts a multi-user IDE for editing JavaScript code to handle responding to messages. In this way, messages can trigger automatic replies, or also control some aspect of a multi-user web application.

During Monsoon Collective Workshop, we used smssage to develop an adaptive poetry generator, a prototype anonymous bribe reporting system inspired by I Paid a Bribe, and to make an html5 ambient sound installation, all controlled by text messages.

Source code is available on github.

The Monsoon Exhibition opens this Friday @ Sattya. Please come!

The Monsoon Exhibition opens this Friday, July 27, 4-9pm at Sattya Media Arts Collective, in Jawlakhel. Please join us!

An exhibition of civic technology and media art will open with a free reception at Sattya Media Collective Friday 27 July from 4-9pm. The work was developed intensively throughout July by the newly-formed Monsoon Collective and boasts contributions from its 12 members as well as collaborations with local technology startups and social organizations.

Broadly speaking, the projects concern the role of technology within society. Among the larger efforts, “Yatayat” is a series of projects around open source public transportation in Kathmandu that include transit data collection as well as development of web, mobile, and SMS applications for routing passengers and “SMSsage” is a platform for developing SMS services ranging from information repositories to electronic music controllers. Expect also to see “moving” photographs, slum cartography, and more.

Monsoon Collective is a recurring month-long collaboration during the monsoon season. Its first instance in July 2012 was the creation of a hackerspace in Kathmandu with access to tools and a culture of and skill-sharing. In keeping with the hacker ethic of access to
information, all code and data generated throughout the month will be documented and released into the commons. At the reception, drinks will be sold and donations solicited towards creation of a more permanent Nepali hackerspace.

Monsoon Exhibition will continue until 6 August at Sattya Media Collective, open daily 10-4 Wednesday through Sunday.

For more information:

Sattya Media Collective is located in Jawlakhel:

Prabhas Pokharel, Monsoon Collective

Robert M Ochshorn, Monsoon Collective

Sara Holcome, Sattya Media Collective

In which monsoon went mobile

Last weekend, the Monsoon Collective invited some participants from Mobile Social Networking Nepal to work on sms- and app-based mobile development. Prawesh Shrestha from mobilenepal has written a really nice summary of the day, which I wanted to link here.

Prawesh captured nicely the list of things we worked on:

  1. Creating music using SMS.
  2. SMS based mobile apps which query about the transportation route.
  3. Android based mobile apps for transportation route.
  4. Monsoon Momo (Windows based game)
  5. [PP: And there was work on an API to support 2 and 3 as well!]

and the vibe of the day:

The place was filled with the ambience of creativity, team work and fun. The groups were completely submerged in their work. Although the projects are not complete, the groups will continue to work on those projects even after the event.

We’re looking forward to the groups showcasing the apps on “demo day” / exhibit on June 27, about which we’ll be posting much more on this blog.

Public transit mapping: a first person perspective

Distilling the pandemonium of public transportation in Kathmandu into a discrete and predictable system requires a fair amount of faith: that somewhere within the relentless waves of chaos there exist a set of rules, maybe even an organization, that control, regulate and facilitate the operation of all the different vehicles.  Well, faith we had, and so we plodded into Kathmandu on July 7th, 2012, embarking on an ambitious project to map out, on OpenStreetMap, the myriad means to getting through Kathmandu on the cheap.

This is necessitated by the fact that there exist to date no reliable systems in which the public can look up a public transit map, with routes, fares or stops.  In truth, the latter is quite flexible, but is nevertheless loosely bound to neighborhoods along which a route runs.  We sought to document and map these stops in a small way to begin the ambitious project of putting Kathmandu’s public transportation on the map.

We began with a short walk to Jawlakhel Chowk, busy with mini- and micro-buses and safa tempos (the iconic electric three-wheelers) all hurried amongst motorbikes, taxis and private cars.  Bright, thankfully dry and scorching – perfect weather!

Tempo drivers, the quietest of the lot, were surprisingly eager to chat and explain the circuit that comprises Jawlakhel Chowk – route number 14A and B (former clockwise, latter counterclockwise), as well as chat about their organization and regulation.  We learned of a committee that sets routes, frequencies and fares within route 14.  It appears each tempo “route” has its own committee whose directives the drivers follow.

Microbuses, on the other hand were impossible to get a hold of curbside, making the tempos look positively idyllic by comparison.  We realized soon that we would have to ride one to get them to talk – clever of them, really.  We got a hold of one headed to Ratna Park, and found it was also route 14, that which goes from Ratna Park to Lagankhel (and sometimes beyond).

“We realized soon that we would have to ride one to get them to talk – clever of them, really.”

These “micros” were regulated by a different committee than those of the tempos, the driver informed us gloomily, as he expounded his belief that there was altogether too much bureaucracy involved in the regulation of public vehicles.  ”Who knows,” he would answer most frequently, “even the people who are in charge don’t know” to our questions about ownership, regulation, and even barriers to entry.  He had been driving this route for 6-7 years, and had known no other route in that time.  Still, he was eager to answer all that we asked, rattling off all the stops in sequence (he recited them both rapidly and lazily) and giving us a casual tour of landmarks along the route (Supreme Court, Palace, RNAC, Thulikel, to name a few).  He forced us off at Ratna Park, explaining that he needed to pull in with an empty bus to attract more people, to which we happily obliged.

Collective member Aashish Regmi asking questions about public transport.

A brief shortcut through Ratna Park brought us to the Old Bus Park.  True to its name, the park is old, and full only of buses, both mini-, micro- and regular.  Terrified of what surrounded us we knew not where to start as buses came and went in every direction, the soothing honks and shouts deafening us with the familiar ambiance of modern day Kathmandu.  Still, by a stroke of fortune, the man we happened to ask turned out to be a regulator of a route, rendering our question as to his existence thankfully moot.  He explained that each route that left the park had one person assigned by a committee to be in charge.  This person coordinated drivers and arranged departures (the serious ones carried stopwatches!) and generally managed the chaos of queuing up buses.  Asked if there was a central repository of route information, he confidently told us that there was.

Well, perfect!  Where?  He laughed. “No idea, ask the Traffic [officer]” he pointed.  We tried to solicit the traffic manager’s enclave and were informed that there was one officer on duty who was not to be bothered.  There was nobody else there, said the stranger with a straight face, unwilling to both explain why he was sitting there and why we could readily see a pair of legs prone on the cot inside.  Still, like all the kung fu movies, nobody ever chooses the easy way.  So we went back and ground out an afternoon worth of interviews, tagging each regulator in charge of each of the lines, taking detailed notes as to the routes, departures, frequencies, fares, distances &c.  Happy to escape the ennui of idling at a bus park, we got many an enthusiastic driver and conductor to pitch into the conversation.  Countless lively disagreements about distances and times ensued, and at the end of it, we emerged with a surprising amount of information.

 As it turns out, almost all lines (unbeknownst even to most regular passengers) had a route number, as well as standardized fare and expected duration of travel.  Buses usually left when full, though everyone happily claimed they left “about every 5 minutes or so” and the park was organized by length of travel, ranging from the minibuses that stayed within Kathmandu from the left to the out-of-towners to the right.  Still, despite exceeding expectations, there were two route #20, though one was technically 20 क , explained the overly defensive driver (not the good kind of defensive driver, either!).  Nevertheless, credit where it’s due – we left with a mountain of data we did not expect existed, and an odd respect for the someone somewhere that begot all this organization…though nobody seems to know who!

We rode back on microbus route 14 with just enough time to stop by Jawlakhel for ice cream and momos.  After all, with our faith rewarded, it was time to indulge in the simpler things in life.

Project Possibilities

Thursday took Wednesday’s external project blitz to exploring the space of project possibilities, trying to get concrete into project ideas that collective members might implement over a month (after reviewing some “situations” that members felt worthy of intervention and attention. Some ideas that I documented from the brainstorming process:

  • As the city crowds in, changing games into the city’s contexts, and creating games for small spaces.
  • Creating meetup-like organizational infrastructure for organizing events aroung gardens and parks in the city.
  • A public umbrella that expands itself in the rain, that people can take shelter under.
  • Algorithms and other methods to help people relocate post Earthquake.
  • Participatory air quality monitoring
  • Language teaching service for the various languages in Nepal
  • Templated radio broadcasts (that can easily be translated and re-broadcasted in many languages
  • Information about touristically important places, located at those places (QR codes?)
  • Adding content about Nepal into Wikipedia
  • Bringing rural values back to the city (artistic interventions demonstrating concepts of rural Nepal like the Chautari, Haat Bazaar, and others)
  • Transparency of bureaucratic processes (crowdsourcing the technical processes needed for interactions with the state–since this info can be sometimes incredibly hard to obtain)
  • Creating versatile public spaces: gaming zones + ..
  • Mobile based “pollution complaint” system
  • Showing the discrepancies between resources used vs. resources imported
  • Map public transport in Kathmandu
  • Map and make accessible green spaces for “healthy activities” (jogging, running, football, etc.)
  • “Wormholes,” best demonstrated through an example of water: putting jars of water obtained from various sources across Kathmandu to juxtapose the discrepancies of water quality among them.

Over the weekend, as we share a skills-sharing session around mapping, collective members will start narrowing down their projects, so that the second week, we can begin more in-depth planning, as well as start on some prototyping and implementation experiments!


An invitation: Come make maps with the monsoon collective!

We have designed the Monsoon Collective so that weekdays are focused around member projects, and the weekends are more ‘skills sharing’-oriented sessions around particular themes; this weekend’s theme being maps. Here is an invitation, to anyone out there:

The Monsoon Collective would like to invite you to a mapping workshop this weekend (July 7+8). It will be free and open to the public, space permitting. The workshop will be held 12-4 Saturday and Sunday, at Sattya Media Arts and Collective in Jawlakhel, Kathmandu. Topics covered will range from geodata collection, submission of geodata to the collaborative mapping platform OpenStreetMaps, and how to make a basic interactive map using html/css and javascript. If you are interested in attending, please respond and let us know how much of the workshop you will be able to attend.
If you have android phones or other GPS-enabled devices, please bring them on Saturday, and if you have laptops, bring those on Sunday.