Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Saturday, Jun 04, 2011
ePaper | Mobile/PDA Version


News: ePaper | Front Page | National | Tamil Nadu | Andhra Pradesh | Karnataka | Kerala | New Delhi | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Miscellaneous | Engagements |
Retail Plus | Classifieds | Jobs |

Karnataka - Bangalore Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

The civic hacker's here

Deepa Kurup

Hacktivists use technology for the benefit of their community

Hacktivism is in its infancy in India but has seen some interesting initiatives

Some examples are, AskNeta, run by citizens

Reaching out: Ushahidi is a hacktivist project that mapped violence post-presidential election in Kenya.

Bangalore: When Wikileaks founder Julian Assange identified himself as an “information activist” last year, scores of hackers around the world, who have been using their technical skills to make information public and easily accessible to citizens, must have nodded in approval. For, the term hacker has for too long been used in the pejorative.

Civic hackers, also called ‘hacktivists' – activists in this information age – are simply citizens who possess the technical skills to navigate the internet, sift through information and devise different tech applications to present the data in the form of a story. What technology does here is to provide a variety of interesting and interactive platforms/formats that can be tinkered with to present a cohesive picture that lends well to analysis and understanding.

There are many such initiatives, which are hugely popular abroad. Interesting examples are Ushahidi, a website, created by a non-profit organisation after Kenya's controversial 2007 presidential election. It collated eyewitness reports of violence using crowdsourcing (through social media) on a Google map. A similar map-based initiative was set up by a tech professional network in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. The network mapped potential adoption families and orphaned children.

In India, however, hacktivism is very much in its infancy. Yet, in the past two years we have seen several small and medium initiatives that have come up that seek to leverage technology to derive simple tangible benefits for their community at large. During the 2009 parliamentary elections, for the first time we saw several websites or portals that engaged with the system of parliamentary democracy directly, and in an interesting and user-friendly manner. Portals such as, AskNeta or (used during the corporation elections) were all run by citizens. Most of them provided information replicated from the official website of the Election Commission; but by simply mapping it, creating mash-ups and adding more layers to the information these citizen-run initiatives managed to attract more attention and engagement.

Though restrictive, given the poor internet penetration in our society, these initiatives could indeed help civil society actors, non-profits and planners access data more easily and on a more congruent platform. An excellent example is, a legal search engine, created by Sushant Sinha which indexes legal judgements from courts across the country.

If you have ever tried to access a digital copy of a judgement order from an Indian Court, you probably know how difficult it is to locate the text you are looking for. This, despite the government having been fairly proactive and diligent with uploading this data regularly. With a poor user interface, this vast amount of data remained difficult to access. All does is trawl through the official website and integrate data available on different portals and make it available in an easily searchable and well-indexed format for users.

Mapping public schools

Another interesting example of civic hacking is the Karnataka Learning Project's interactive maps on An interesting map that provides multiple data sets on government primary and pre-schools in Bangalore – for instance, location of schools, addresses, medium of instruction and programmes run, are all plotted on a map. The idea is to tell a more congruent story about the government schools in Bangalore, explains Gautam John of Akshara Foundation. While such data is available on government websites they are often in formats that are neither easy to read nor understand. An Open Government Data study by the Centre for Internet and Society, notes that part of the reason why civic hackers are not numerous is that public data has only been recently digitised. The report encouraged by the government in order to make data available in a form that facilitates analysis and enhances offline usability.

Printer friendly page  
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail


News: ePaper | Front Page | National | Tamil Nadu | Andhra Pradesh | Karnataka | Kerala | New Delhi | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Miscellaneous | Engagements |
Retail Plus | Classifieds | Jobs | Updates: Breaking News |

News Update

The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | The Hindu ePaper | Business Line | Business Line ePaper | Sportstar | Frontline | Publications | eBooks | Images | Ergo | Home |

Copyright 2011, The Hindu. Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu