This Indian Cleanup App Could Clean Up the World

Oct 23, 2014 at 12:12 PM ET

There’s a whole lot of public shaming going on in India these days. The government is helping people publicly shame officials who are accepting bribes, and now Indian app-makers want to literally clean up the streets by shaming authorities into action.

The Swachh Bharat app is a newcomer in the crowdsourced governmental info world, but it’s a simple, effective way to highlight public lapses of sanitation. Download the app, and when you spot something unsightly on the side of the street, snap a picture, tweet it via the app, and the transgression gets marked on a map.

The app links in with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission to Clean India, a nationwide campaign comprising 4,041 towns that pledges to render India spotless by 2019. Although the app has yet to receive official government backing, it’s the cleanest (no pun intended) of several contenders linked to the campaign.

The beauty of it is that the pictures and the mapping together make for really simple corroboration. Take this picture, for example, from northwestern Bangalore. You can see a very distinct water tower in the distance, beside the road and a gigantic mess of garbage.

Now check out this grab of the map. You can see the road, and below and to the right, the water tower. Location identified, now send in the sanitation engineers—how delightfully efficient! The app sends out a tweet, published to the map, and then the team behind it periodically updates the local authorities with items they may wish to tackle.

Any app like this lives and dies on pickup, though, and from a glance at the map it has generated, it’s still in its very early stages. However, the creators claim they have 750 active reporters. (Note to creators: 1,260,929,250 potential reporters left to recruit!) There are just a few icons generated by eagle-eyed trash spotters, pointing out garbage heaps and the like.

The app is available on Android but not yet iOS, but hey, in a country where Android has 90 percent market share at a conservative estimate, that makes perfect sense. One thing that would push it past the tipping point would be backing from Facebook, which is apparently in the cards after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with Modi earlier in October, hinting that the social media giant would assist with app development.

Another nice little touch is that the developers have put their code online via code-sharing site GitHub so that others can either make suggestions or use it for their own purposes. The simplicity of the platform could have a million uses. The combination of mapping and direct comms could work nicely for crowdsourced verification for journalism, or maybe it could help the guys launching a SWAT app to halt police brutality. Most obviously, any other local authority could use it to highlight lapses in sanitation, or required roadworks, or basically any lapse in local services to their local authority.

So potentially, if it gained traction, this app could help clean up the entire world. Wouldn’t that be nice?