'Democratised web' helps Malaysian's life quality
Want to buy a house in a safe area or avoid traffic snarls? Malaysians are tackling hot issues like crime and clogged roads with user-generated information that is "democratising" the Web.
The Malaysia Crime website combines Twitter updates and web feeds from newspapers and social media sites onto Google maps to give a real-time picture of crime across Malaysia.
Software engineer Kegan Gan, 34, developed the website after a friend was attacked by "snatch thieves" who terrorise the Malaysian public with violent muggings.
"My friend even had his fingertip sliced off by the thieves and I thought there should be a place where we can get a real picture of crime in Malaysia," he told AFP.
"Now people know where it's safe to buy a home, or even shop without being hassled."
Prominent Malaysian software developer Colin Charles says the site, www.malaysiacrime.com, which is also available as a iPhone app, is made possible by Malaysia's open source codes policy.
"In countries like Korea, Microsoft's operating system has kept the market closed but because Malaysia has embraced other open operating systems like Linux and Mac OS, data is integrated from the various platforms," he told AFP.
"So, you are starting to keep things real because now the public has its own data and data is very powerful," the pioneer open source developer said on the sidelines of the Open Web Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur.
"Previously there was no access to data, you were given what you saw in the daily newspaper. Today when an accident happens, people are tweeting and it's updated on these sites, it's everywhere."
In a country where the mainstream media are largely government-linked and often mistrusted, Charles says user-generated sites can revolutionise how Malaysians respond to their biggest bugbears.
Rampant crime and traffic congestion caused by inadequate infrastructure rank high on the list of issues Malaysians say they are most unhappy about, and encouraging official statistics have not silenced those gripes.
Another smartphone app called KL Traffic, integrates traffic camera feeds from around the capital with Twitter updates to give a comprehensive picture of where the traffic jams are and the best routes for your journey.
"Malaysia will become more democratic through the open web, it will take us to the next level, which may or may not be a good thing for the current ruling party which can either embrace or view it as a threat," Charles says.
Both Malaysia Crime and KL Traffic are in their fledgling stages after being developed late last year, but Gan says his app has already become one of the most-downloaded in the Malaysian iPhone app store and the concept has attracted a flurry of commentary and media reports.
Gan says he approached the government with a plan to incorporate home ministry and police crime data onto the Malaysia Crime site to make it more comprehensive but despite positive words, nothing has happened.
Home ministry officials declined to comment on the issue.
Michael Smith, Yahoo! director of global technology initiatives, say the tables have been turned for governments in the region, who now have to contend with a better-informed public.
"The governments should get behind this stuff, either they build these site themselves or should take this information into their government planning," he told AFP.
"To take the ostrich approach and pretend this isn't important is pretty silly."
This story is sourced direct from an overseas news agency as an additional service to readers. Spelling follows North American usage, along with foreign currency and measurement units.