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The creative energy is rampant these days, reaching a nice crescendo at SXSW and continuing as I apply to mini-grants for projects that are leaking out every pore of me. One of the ones I worked on yesterday for the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge Cabbie Talk.

It’s a project that has me really excited and it goes something like this:

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Around the world news is constantly happening: a picture, a video, a short text message captured by someone. These captured, random experiences in unison are the indicators of events that have impact. It is a conversation happening in communities that anyone can join – anyone with a cellphone – can be one voice heard by many. An essential part of media is to connect the web to the world, to deliver a message that is timely, relevant and has impact. That process must now be accessible and not limited to a few. Often the communities whose stories need to be told are the least connected to the enabling tools.

Our project will implement a citizen news center based on taxi dispatches made by taxi drivers in two cities, Oakland, California and Guatemala City, Guatemala – both increasingly violent cities where taxi drivers are often attacked or serve as the eyes and ears of the community and immediate events that impact the community. Our project will setup a platform much like TaxiNews that will make it easy for drivers to post newsworthy content quickly using cellphones. This will become a backbone for a citizen news hub to influence coverage by a few to many.

Cab drivers are the life lines of a community in that they take passengers to and from their homes and in the process are often witnesses to events that often go unreported. In addition, the penetration of cellphones amongst cab drivers while affording them immediate access to their customers also makes it easy for them to file things using voice reporting. They are perfect members of a news dispatch service, playing a vital role in crime reporting , news alerts and tips and events.

We will provide cab drivers with free cellphones in exchange for each driver registering with our Web site and file reports every day on what they see and experience. To make the service as simple as possible we propose using a voice podcasting model where the cab drivers will be able to call in their reports daily. We can push put their updates via Twitter or an SMS gateway and when people reply we can push back those comments via sms to their cells. The other incentive to this project is that customers can also register with our platform and also use the service to text a taxi for pick-up, thus providing the cab drivers with more business.

When I got a call today Yi Tang, a cabbie in Chicago who’s been in the industry for twenty years, I felt that same surge of energy that used to come from finding a story to report. But these days it’s different, it’s more the surge of connecting the dots between information, reporting and change.

Tang informed me that one of the main problems and risk they face is crime and that no one has a clear picture of the number of crimes and types of crimes that happen involving cab drivers. He really liked the project I was proposing he said because you’re creating a local solution to create crime data that can then be used to influence policy makers to enforce criminal activity against cab drivers and to create regulatory standards.

So, if a taxi drivers can text or call in crimes to a database linked to an interactive map, it can serving a tracking system for agencies to work work and cooperate to deal with those crimes. Jurisdiction issues will be another challenge, but if we could make that happen then we have something that’s meaningful and useful. Community value and impact is what CabbieTalk has going for it and now I am inspired. So Erik Sundelof and I set up at Web site called Cabbie Talk and Twitter .This is just the beginning, my favorite part.

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