Twitter users track power outages in India

A volunteer group is using Twitter messages to build infographs on electricity cuts in the country

Electric power cuts in India are frequent and all over the country. But information on the extent of the problem has been largely anecdotal.

Now a volunteer group is working with a large number of Indian users of Twitter to create an infographic based on Twitter messages from various parts of the country, reporting power failures from various cities and towns.

The crowd-sourced infographic and other data can be used to pressure politicians and the government to solve the power problem, said Shefaly Yogendra, a U.K.-based investment consultant, who initiated the project. It can also be used by planners to decide on new investments in electricity generation and transmission.

"Every time it is summer, I usually have a lot of friends from India complaining on Twitter about power cuts," Yogendra said.

When two Indian friends complained recently in quick succession about power cuts in two different cities, Yogendra suggested to them that they should use common Twitter hashtags such as #powercutindia or #PowerCutsIN, and report the power cuts, their location and frequency, which could then be plotted on a map of the country. Users were also advised to send a message once power was restored, she said.

The group now has a website that presents the map data and maintains reports on power cuts across the country.

There were about 10.19 reports of power cuts on an average each day, about a week after the site was set up, said Ajay Kumar, the technology buff who set up the website. Kumar is the manager for IT and communications at a nongovernment organization.

The group expects to get higher participation from people once word gets around and also after it starts allowing users to report electricity cuts using text messages from their mobile phones. "This will increase the reach, as not all people in India are on Twitter," Yogendra said. An e-mail option for reporting electricity cuts may also be rolled out.

Volunteers now update the website reports manually after filtering incoming messages that are inaccurate, flippant or in a non-standard format. The group also has people it has designated as "star reporters" whose information can be relied upon, and can be used to check other reports coming in from Twitter users, Yogendra said.

"Crowd-sourcing is based on trust, but we have to be careful," she said.

Once the group grows to a significant number of star reporters, reporting in standard formats, the site can be updated in real time, Kumar said.

Indians are increasingly beginning to use social networking and the Web as political tools to bring their problems to the notice of local and federal authorities. Supporters of the anti-corruption drive of political activist Anna Hazare in April used Twitter and Facebook extensively to communicate, organize and get support.

The officials in government are slowly responding. Facebook pages of the Delhi and Mumbai traffic police, for example, allow people to post photos of traffic violations, and offer suggestions for traffic management.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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