BEIRUT

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Mobile app helps navigate streets of discontent

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  • Anyone with the app can send in notifications about an event.

  • An icon represents the type of action on the map’s interface.

BEIRUT: The TV flashes news of an arrest or kidnapping and you’re due to pick up a visiting family member from the airport that evening. Will they face a carcinogenic welcome from burning tires?

Will you even be able to get through the roads? Ma2too3a, a mobile app developed by Larochesoft, is your source for real-time updates of everything from fires to traffic accidents and armed conflict at your fingertips.

Founder and CEO of Larochesoft, Mohammad Taha, says that the idea behind the app came when a friend of his was due to visit Beirut from Sweden.

Taha had to warn his friend before his arrival that “if he wants to drive safely in the country he has to check a number of news websites to know where things are happening.”

“I thought, well, a website isn’t that useful. So we should have a mobile app that tells you what is happening in real time and the distance that you are from the event itself,” Taha continues, explaining the inspiration behind consolidating all of this information into one space.

The content on Ma2too3a is all user generated. Anyone with the app can send in notifications about an event – whether a traffic jam, protest or fire – and the team at Ma2too3a will use news contacts and sources around the country to verify the event and then “push” the notification through to its users. The more details users send, the faster the team can verify the action.

The event will pop up on the app’s map interface with an icon representing the type of action and the distance from your current location. When the action or event subsides, the icon is replaced with a red rose.

Less than two weeks since its launch, Ma2too3a has more than 11,100 users and has consistently topped Lebanon’s iTunes app chart.

“People are loving it. It connects with people because this is a big issue over here,” says Taha, who is humbled by the positive reaction.

The Larochesoft team monitor notifications 24/7, pushing through four to five events on average per day from users all over the country. Taha hopes to expand their sources of information.

“We are now contacting the Interior Ministry and fire department in Beirut to formalize this,” says Taha, who hopes that with their cooperation, this app can serve as an official source of emergency notifications as well as pushing information from users.

Another step will be to work with Lebanon’s news sources, allowing them to add updates. Taha also wants to build a hashtag system into the application for searching keywords and locations.

Currently, Ma2too3a is only available in Arabic, but Taha plans to have an English version ready soon and will also release the software to download on the Android phone in a matter of days.

Taha believes that the immediate popularity of Ma2too3a shows demand for mobile applications specific to Lebanon and is encouraging for the country’s tech startups – if they can stick out the difficulties that come with operating in Lebanon.

“The environment is very hard – there is too much risk, not only in tech startups but for starting any type of business,” says Taha, who needs backup Internet and electricity systems to keep Ma2too3a running.

But, Taha adds, due to the number of Lebanese entrepreneurs who go abroad, there is opportunity for those who manage to “handle it.”

“If you have good software and you do really good work, it’s easy to stand out because the number of good tech startups in Lebanon is very limited. And this is what happened to us.”

The success has brought Taha hope that he and other Lebanese can stay and work in their own country. “[The support] brings hope that things can work and you don’t have to travel [abroad] to make a living. It makes us think we can stay, that I can do this.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2012, on page 2.

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