In battle for the ballot, software firms app the ante

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 13 2014, 06:52am hrs
AppWhen the world?s largest democracy goes to the polls, it?s quite natural that software companies will try to tap the huge chunk of smartphone users in the country. Reuters
Today, theres an app for almost everything under the sun. So, when the worlds largest democracy goes to the polls, its quite natural that software companies will try to tap the huge chunk of smartphone users in the country. Considering that a fourth of the 81.45-crore Indians eligible to vote this year have access to Internet (as per reports), most of whom use it on their mobile handsets, these e-platforms are taking the initiative to educate and create poll awareness among the masses.

From features that help users register for voting to informing them about the current state of the elections and providing real-time election news, several new apps have come up to bridge the last-mile gap between users and the democratic set-up.

The app India Vote, for instance, serves as an on-the-go directory for voters looking to know about candidates contesting from their constituency.

India Election EC Voter, meanwhile, helps voters locate their nearest polling booth. Others like Voting Line serve as real-time trackers to gauge election trends across the country at any given point in time.

Manav Gaur, CEO, Monocept, a Hyderabad-based software development company behind the Voting Line app, says, It is not just an app but a platform to seek opinions of citizens and analyse the voting trends in real time. We created this app to have a fair opinion of the people by enabling them to cast their votes without being manipulated midway.

As per a spokesperson from Monocept, about 5,000 people have downloaded the app from Googles Play Store.

Facebook recently came up with the India Election Tracker in India that tracks candidates and parties throughout the election period. People logging into the application can see the live stream of candidates for the ongoing elections and participate in a poll about issues that matter to them. They can also compare how much the Facebook community is talking about leading candidates and parties over time.

The idea was to enable people to get involved in issues of governance, says Ankhi Das, director of public policy, Facebook India. Over 93 million Indian citizens access Facebook regularly, and an increasing number of users access the platform on mobile platforms. We hope to make information more readily available to users about the antecedents and performance of political candidates, adds Das.

Facebook also collaborated with the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a civil society group working for transparency in politics, in November last year to provide criminal, financial, educational and professional information on candidates. With the help of USSD technology, Facebook was able to bring this information on phones without even an Internet connection. Voters just needed to dial *325*35# to access the election menu for no extra charge.

For exposes on candidates contesting elections, there is the Election Watch Reporter app. The app encourages users to report candidates corrupt practices by uploading photos and videos that uncover alleged malpractices. App developers, in turn, forward them to the Election Commission of India, the nodal election body in the country, for scrutiny.

A spokesperson from ADR, the brain behind Election Watch Reporter, says apps provide a cheaper mode of communication for both the developer and the end-user.

Not just social media giants and web companies, the way people access news is evolving as well. In fact, BBC recently announced that it is reaching out to its readers and the public via messaging appsWhatsApp and WeChat. Trushar Barot, assistant editor of the user-generated content and social media hub at BBC News, recently said in a blog post that the broadcaster realises that these serviceslike WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Viber, Nimbuzz, and BBMarent just chat apps but effectively mobile-first social media channels.

Recently, Google also launched Know Your Candidates, which allows citizens to get access to relevant information about candidates contesting from their constituencies and their incumbent MPs. It integrates publicly available information sourced from organisations such as the ADR, PRS Legislative Research and Liberty Institute India.