If Egyptian voters queuing in long lines today needed a quick reminder of the list of potential candidates, all they had to do was open a mobile phone, thanks to a new application. Sawtak, meaning “your voice” or “your vote,” today released a Blackberry version designed to empower voters even as they made last minute considerations.
The Blackberry app, along with a mobile WAP site and Android app that launched last week, uses Google’s API to provide users with the election information published on elections2011.eg, a joint initiative between Google and the Egyptian government. This includes voting dates, a polling station map, and lists of candidates for each voting constituency, all designed to help citizens navigate a labyrinthine electoral system that carves Egypt into 83 constituencies which vote in three different rounds.
Uniquely, the app allows Android and Blackberry users to store their favorite candidates in a “My Sawtak” page, so they can review their choices on foot. Because voters have to vote both for a party and two individual candidates to represent their district, it’s useful to have this information in your pocket, says creator Mahamed El Tanahy, the founder of Egyptian software development company Bright Creations.
“Even within our company, everyone’s got different political
views about political parties, but, last I checked, no one really
knew who they were going to vote for,” he says.
Sawtak was also inspired by his desire to review electoral information when he wasn’t at the computer, he says. “We purposely focused on mobile so that people could have easy access to information when they’re casually discussing politics with friends and family, in a café or at home."
If the downloads are any indication, voters are enjoying that flexibility. “Yesterday and the day before, the number of people downloading it has gone exponential,” says El Tanahy. The Blackberry app has garnered a few thousand downloads since its launch today, he says, and downloads for the Android app and pageviews on the mobile site also number in the thousands, he says.
Marketing has been purely social media and word of mouth, with sponsor Etisalat also promoting the app on their site. While Bright Creations has previously worked to create data portal Insights MENA for Google, this app is an unrelated project, says El Tanahy, aside from the fact that it leverages Google’s API.
Yet, as with many things in Egypt, building the app has entailed
a bit of a waiting game. After learning of the elections2011.eg
initiative and applying to use its information, El Tanahy and the
Bright Creations team waited for approval from the Egyptian
government for about a month. “The government had to authorize our
storyboards and ensure that we weren't political or religious or
trying to change anyone's view,” he says.
They have also been waiting for approval for the iPhone version for two weeks. “We actually built the iPhone app first, since we knew approval would take awhile,” he confesses. But they didn’t expect it to take this long.
Yet for voters who have waited 30 years for democratic elections, and protestors who continue to insist on transparency, proper voting conduct, and a civilian government, a few weeks is a small price for an app that empowers their choice.