Happin wasn’t created to fight terrorism or crime, but it was created to navigate it.
It’s a smartphone application for iPhone and Android that lets users flag obstacles for other drivers, but across a set of categories that clearly weren’t created for small town USA. Road and traffic is just one of six, while others include "burning tires" and "demonstration."
It’s the work of Lebanese app developer Mohammad Taha, created so that he wouldn’t have to tell visitors to check news sites before trying to drive anywhere. He also uses the app himself. "Of course I do," he says. "I recently used it to go around some of the checkpoints that are causing lots of traffic in one of Beirut’s areas after one of the recent explosions."
As an app that’s fully dependent on the crowd for content, it has its issues. Listings vary in detail and language (a mix of Arabic and English), and included, when I checked, at least one that appeared to be spam. But with 80,000 downloads and 25,000 active users, according to Taha, Happin seems to have found a niche.
It’s not even the only app to try to fill it, though. Way to Safety claims to use sound triangulation to map gunshots in the country. "Every app and PC with our app installed will become a gunshot reporting tool," says their English-language pitch video. And then there’s Lebanese Armed Forces Shield: an app recently released by the Lebanese Army. It lets users file reports of crime and violence to be seen not by other users, but by the army.
As for Happin, Taha plans to create an API so that police and media alike can port the data in real time. At the same time, he and his team are trying to reach beyond Lebanon. "We are looking to expand in several countries," he says. "To do that we are looking for some sort of incubation and/or investment to help us go forward."
Going beyond Lebanon's borders may also mean fewer "burning tires." "The concept of Happin is being pivoted to cater for all general safety concerns," says Taha. It is, perhaps, a small ray of optimism from Syria's neighbor.