Sukey: A New Mobile App to Keep Demonstrators Safe and Informed
In late 2010, we reported on how student activists in the United Kingdom had taken to the streets to protest against increases to tuition fees and cuts in higher education (the bill to pass the fees hike was passed in Parliament). Using a mix of traditional protest tactics and digital activism, multiple protests were staged over the course of few months across the UK.
At the time, participants were using Twitter and text messages to keep in touch and avoid police kettling, a controversial practice where police officers contain a crowd within a limited area and usually keep them there for an extended period of time. During a protest on December 9, a live protest map was introduced to update protesters on the position of the police in central London.
Since then, a group of tech-savvy activists who participated in the protests have created a new mobile app to further help demonstrators avoid kettling and keep people on the streets safe. Called Sukey (the name comes from the nursery rhyme "Polly put the kettle on, Sukey takes it off again"), the app crowdsources information from people on the ground about what’s happening. Reports can be fielded through Twitter, Google Latitude, SMS, and image services like Flickr and TwitPic. The Sukey team then takes the information, filters out misinformation using SwiftRiver, and updates what's happening on the ground in real time on a map. Smartphone users can check updates on the live map, while feature phone users can receive SMS from Sukey with frequent updates. Using this information, people can avoid trouble spots and possible kettling.
Check out their helpful tutorial here to see the app in action.
Team Sukey, as the developers call themselves, see the app as helping both protesters and police officers by "reducing tensions on the street to the point where police do not feel the need to use the highly controversial technique of kettling." The app was first tested at demonstrations held in London on January 29. When a group of demonstrators broke off from a main group marching against cuts to head to another protest at the Egyptian embassy, some of the demonstrators believed that police were about to start kettling. They shared this info with the Sukey team, who then alerted the news to their entire list. Many of the protesters then left the area, so no kettling occurred. The activists/developers behind Sukey aim to be open and transparent in both how the app is used and how they interact with police. They have even invited the police to work in concert with them to improve communications between police and protesters.
The next version, called Sukey 2 - Electric Boogaloo, will be formally released ahead of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) rally on March 26. In the meantime, they will be field testing the interim release, beginning with a protest this Thursday against university vice chancellors.
With all that is happening in the MENA region and beyond, could we expect to see Sukey extend beyond the UK? The developers tell me that they are already working on it: “Sukey German is our first step toward translation—we have had to start copying with umlauts and special characters. Sukey 2 (EB) is being designed with interchangeable language files and text directions to simplify translation to Arabic. The code and language files will be opensourced at the end of March, which should accelerate translation into the languages where it is most needed."
With protests occurring more often in the UK, Sukey is finding a way to keep participants informed and safe. Tests of the next version of the app over the coming months will provide more evidence of its utility. To learn more, check out http://sukey.org/.