Trash-Filled Streets and Potholed Roads? Who Ya Gonna Call? SocialCops!



When faced with a problem or annoyance, it’s sometimes nice (if annoying for others) to vent about it online. For Indian urbanites, their gripes about pollution, potholes, and other street-level hazards will soon actually flow from Twitter and Facebook directly to the relevant authorities – and cause some positive action to be taken. That’s the goal of SocialCops, which describes itself as a platform to bring together community stakeholders: NGOs, local governments, and the citizens who encounters these issues every day.

SocialCops is aiming to launch soon in India, explains Prukalpa Sankar, a student at Sinagpore’s Nanyang Technological University and a co-founder of this civic-minded startup. There are citizen-side apps in the works, and the Android version and main website will launch in May in New Delhi, India, for the SocialCops pilot.

For this to work, local authorities need to be involved as well, and so SocialCops is also building a council-side web platform so that all the street-level hazards and annoyances can be filtered from social media, through SocialCops, and straight to the men and women who can sort things out. The Singapore-based startup – with a team of three, who are all NTU final-year students – is also looking beyond India in the future, as Prukalpa explains:

We’re building the product for developing countries – We’re looking to launch in India. We have a collaboration with a local council that services about 100,000 people and we’ll be reiterating the council dashboard with their support. Once the council side of the platform is ready, it will be ready to be launched on a global level – but we’re mainly targeting Asian countries. In Singapore, we’ll be looking to launch sometime in 2014 if we manage to get council support. The business model and monetization strategy will be different for developing and developed countries but the product will essentially be the same.

SocialCops India

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The SocialCops team has lined up a couple of revenue streams already. One of these is for local small businesses to advertise on the platform and also offer rewards, perhaps in the form of discounts or promotions, to people who contribute positively to the site. The other monetization channel is more traditional: taking sponsoprship from large brands and retailers who’ll participate as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

(See: SI Camp Asia: Initiating Social Change Through Technology)
SocialCops is already generating interest in India, Prukalpa says, and that has prompted some citizens to take to the startup’s Facebook page to lodge notices of various urban issues – and this is before the SocialCops website has even launched. One common issue they’ve found already – and which the platform will be useful for streamlining – is that local councils often lose track of what its outsourced street services or repairmen are doing. He explains:

[A common] scenario is: The local council outsources civic duties to third-party service providers and are finding it difficult to monitor the ground reality of the performance of these companies. We ran a low-tech pilot in India which invited SMS complaints from citizens on one hand and SMS reports of third-party service providers and created a common newsfeed for the council – which created a check-and-balance in the system and increased efficiency.

Perhaps SocialCops would fair better in India by continuing to accept SMS entries, as smartphone and cellular data adoption in the country is pretty slow. That’s why we’ve seen some neat feature phone-oriented startups emerge, like the messaging-based search engine SMSGyan.

But SocialCops looks promising, and we await its full launch in May to see how it manages to help good citizens take care of their neighborhoods. The startup has already been given a boost by winning a Global ICT Prize in the Global Social Entrepreneurship competition, where the team walked away with a check for $10,000 from Microsoft.

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