As many of you know, Typhoon Haiyan struck in the Philippines last year. The horrible typhoon cost more than 5000 people their life, and caused 2 million people to lose the roof above their head. Families have been broken, and people are still missing to this date.
Right after the typhoon, Geeklist organised a Hackathon for this disaster. Developers got together and started hacking to assist relief efforts through programming and entrepreneurship.
Without a doubt, I decided to sign up for the event. At first, I thought this would be a very short weekend project, but then I figured out that there was a lot more to it than I thought .
Initially, I came up with a simple idea to map the cell towers that are available, but shortly after that, I realized that there are a lot of people who actually have cell phone reception, and saw a huge opportunity in benefiting from that reception in relief efforts. I cancelled all my work meetings, and started developing an application for this purpose, status.ph. The application’s purpose was to find what you need and share what you offer, deliver the information real-time, and create useful data sets for NGOs based on the collected data.
Within a week, I had finished a working prototype of the app. At this point, I had not yet collected input from NGOs, and it was only a wild dream that this would ever become useful. Shortly after presenting my application to NGOs, that dream came closer to reality. Before I knew it, I was in a Google Hangout with MSF, UN OCHA, Google, Geeklist CEO Reuben Katz, and other great community members. It was a great opportunity to get introduced to people that are already making a difference, people that I hope to be like one day.
Unfortunately, we decided not to release the application in the Philippines, but it has been a great opportunity for me to start something great. This is a concept that can apply in any emergency situation where data is still available, and that is where we are headed! This opportunity opened doors for me to the greatest NGOs in the world. An opportunity that a serving person like me could only dream of. Working with the creme-de-la-creme when it comes to effectively helping people that need it the most.
We decided to test the application further before releasing it, and explore other ways it could be used. For example, we figured out that the application could be used as an internal communication tool for teams in chaotic situations.
Status.ph is becoming closer to reality, and I have the amazing opportunity to fly out to London to meet with one of these NGOs. After that, I will present my experience with a global audience of over 1000 developers at #Hack4Good 0.5. I truly hope that this application will make a difference one day. I have also put the basic components of my application in a framework, and I will be sharing it with the heroes at #Hack4Good 0.5.
I have learned a lot, and made quite a few mistakes when developing status.ph. I would like to share them so that any team that will be hacking for social good is aware of what I have learned.
- NGOs are willing to give you valuable feedback! My application ended up in a different way than I had initially intended it, and it was hard for me at first to feel like I had misunderstood the opportunity. It was very important for me to realise that I was not doing this for myself, but for the people. I think it is important to realise that yes it is a competition, and yes there are judges, but in the end the real victory is in serving the people.
- Program dynamically, and write separate components. Like I mentioned in my previous bullet point, my application ended up very different from the way I had intended it. Therefore, it was extremely beneficial that I wrote my components separately and included them when they were finished. In this way, it is also easier to delegate work.
- I think that as programmers, we sometimes tend to take a lot of pride in what we create. For me, it took some time to realize that I had to collaborate with others, and learn from them in order to create an effective application.
- I took a lot of time out to make sure that my code was written efficiently from the start. Some NGOs might have a limited budget, and your application must be able to perform well on the lower-end devices! Also keep in mind that battery life is crucial. The last thing you want, is for your application to fail somebody in a life-threatening situation.
- In order to make status.ph effective in all situations, I decided to push most tasks to the server. This way, a slower device does not negatively impact any intensive processes.
- I felt like I had to put most of the work in to making sure that the UI is easy to understand for users. With the help of Dan, we managed to design a UI that is fast to operate, fast to react, and very efficient. I think it is very important to consider that the amount of options should be limited to what is really necessary for organisations in specific situations.
Within a short amount of time we made it to the Dutch TV, Dutch media sites, and opened doors at the biggest NGOs in the world. All because one person had a crazy idea, that person met an amazing group of people, and we all did nothing but follow our heart to reach our goal.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
I can’t humanly imagine the situation the Philippine people were in, nor the bravery and strength of the human spirit the Philippine and the NGOs needed to display.
It was a privilege to be able to do something that may one day ease someone’s suffering and possibly save a life, I would like to sincerely thank hack4good for allowing me the opportunity to play a part in that.
This could be the start of something great. I am very thankful to everybody who has supported me through the development, and I don’t want to end this blog without giving a shout out to my team members. It would have been an impossible journey without you!
- Robert-Jan Den Haan (Graphics Design)
- Willem-Jan Van Loon (Social Media)
- Dan Cunningham (#Hack4Good Organiser)
- Remo Van Stee (Icon Design)
- Geekli.st programmers, for helping with valuable data for the system
- Staminus Communications, for providing DDoS protected hosting
I would also like to those that have chosen to donate, and the heroes that went out there to help. Have you ever thought about what you could do to change the world for the better? You can join us on February 7th on #Hack4Good
TV Broadcast (Status.ph Starts at about 21 Minutes):