Dear Indonesian Government, Tell Us The Dang Weather

Written on December 24th, 2012. We've got comments, too!

It’s December, 2012. While the so-called doomsday advocates take a pounding for their horribly wrong “predictions”, people in Jakarta are taking cover from their own catastrophe: Floods.

kompas-jakarta-floods
Photo from Kompas. And no, our little boats aren’t actually that good.

And this being 2012 — year of smartphones and tablets — the whole city pokes their government and asks the obvious: why didn’t we know it was gonna flood?

Would it be so hard as to, I don’t know, broadcast it over some nationwide system?

I did my research, so I can answer pretty clearly: Because the system sucks. No, seriously — at least right now.

You see, it does exist — in a sense, at least. The government has this thing called Sijampang. It stands for “Sistem Informasi Hujan dan Genangan Berbasis Keruangan”. Fancy words for “weather info.”

icon_sijampang
It also has a very curious logo.

This is the system the Indonesian government developed to make weather data publicly available. It consists of radar data, plus “crowdsourced” data (more on that amusing tidbit in a minute). Scientists being scientists, it looks like this:

sijampang
This is actually pretty sexy.

I’ll be straightforward here: I spent my childhood’s lonely nights watching weather reports on TV, and I don’t have a clue what this is. I see a few blue spots, so that might be rain… Except Jakarta has no spots, and I’m pretty sure it’s still flooded.

Now, to their credit, there actually is really sexy data if you’re willing to poke at the interface. For instance, here’s water level data at one of the floodgates in Jakarta.

useful_sijampang
It warms my heart to know there’s a guy actually taking water level data, somewhere out there, every hour on a lonely day.

It’s a great service, and it clearly could provide us with the data we need. But it’s in an unusable form. Your average guy out on the streets driving home from work — the same guy who’ll get in trouble when he gets stuck in flooded streets overnight — can’t make any sense out of this.

What we need is a way to actively push these weather warnings out to the public. You can’t expect people to browse the web or watch the news all day long. Where’s my BlackBerry app? My Android app? My iOS app?

Well, also to their credit, there’s an Android app… And a text message service. But that’s a pretty bad way to do things: The Sijampang Android app exists, but it’s not on the Play Store, and you have to register and stuff. Why do I need to register just to get push notifications like “holy banana peels, get home quick, it’s gonna flood in a few minutes”?

There’s also a text message service. You type HUJAN#REG#YourName#Jl. Borobudur no.11#Kota Bogor in a SMS to 0852 8786 7427 and you’ll… No, actually, I won’t try it. These “type REG MONEY send to 9999” TV scams have long made me hate this stuff. Incidentally, this (plus the app) is where they get their crowdsourced data from. You can kinda see why few people bother to pay for text messages to a service like this. (Also, you’re expected to either know a location’s codename, or the latitude/longitude. We all carry GPS units around, right?) Crowdsourcing does not work that way. You seed it, you make it a game, you make it valuable. It’s not “build it, and they will come.”

Now, really, I don’t want to bash these people. The system is there and the guts to make it work are in place — they just need to make it accessible. Or make an API so other developers can build off it.

All I want is to be told if there’s bad weather ahead. I just want a push notification. I want a good app, or—

Wait, a framework for this already exists! It’s called Twitter.

sijampang_twitter
Did I just blow your mind?

It’s easy! Grab accessible disaster data — surely the police or someone has it — and get a guy to push them to Twitter. Indonesia’s 30 million Twitter users can just follow them, and we get timely updates!

Except…

twitter_stream
It’s 10 tweets in the last hour. “City X is Raining. City Y is Raining. City Z…”

Look, I get the goodwill, but if anyone wants to check the weather, they could visit one of the six billion weather apps on their smartphone, or, you know:

google_weather
All hail Google! All hail Google!

Nobody is going to follow a twitter user that tweets 200 times a day saying “it’s raining in a city you’ve never even visited.”

Or am I picking on the wrong government organization in the first place? Indonesia also has one called “Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana”. It’s the disaster authority in Indonesia. Maybe they can lend a hand?

bnpb
Nope!

And even if you do install it, the latest data is from 10 days ago.

Why?

Because it’s crowdsourced, too.


Disclosure: This post is directed at the awesome guys behind these technologies. They’re not “bad” — these people are some of our top scientists. They’re just not designers or technologists who make a living understanding the web — they’re the guys doing the science. Here’s hoping this post sheds some light on the problem.