Sometime in 2010, I decided I had had enough of Lagos traffic and decided I had to tackle it in my own way. After brainstorming on the best way to tackle it, I concluded Social Network had to be the way. So I formed a Facebook group called Traffic Busters and Invited my Facebook Friends. However, that didn’t last as there was no way people could update each other real time online especially with Pictures. As such I thought Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was probably the best way. That worked to an extent as people caught on with it real time online and could also upload pictures as well. However, the problem with that was that as the group is updated you get an alert instantly which drains your battery as well as can be irritating. I gave that up too in no time as members of the group started to leave for the reasons mentioned above.
In 2011 I stumbled on two twitter handles @Gidi_Traffic and @trafficbutter who had done a remarkable job at sharing traffic information in Lagos. It was fascinating as I always believed social network was the way. But to use a Twitter handle was even the more remarkable. That involved a lot of man hour, dedication and constant fixation on a phone or a laptop as they both frequently do. @Gidi_Traffic for example is online tweeting traffic update as early as 6am in the morning all through to 11pm non stop. That has got to be the only job they do. I do not see how you can keep up with that even if you have staff who work shifts just tweeting. Whilst their service to people is laudable and self emulating its hard not to imagine why they cannot be compensated for doing something they obviously enjoy doing.
Traffic updates in the developed world are mostly done via GPS and mapping technology using gadgets such as Sat-Nav. They display location and traffic information from orbiting satellites on a gadget attached to the dashboard of a car. Some mobile phones also render such services using the same technology. The companies who sell these equipments obviously make their money from sale of the equipments. Some companies in Nigeria had tried to sell these services some years back but met little interest as the GPS technology wasn’t fully functional due to lack of proper location and mapping information in Nigeria as well as poor internet services. It also was a victim of bad timing as people were still getting abreast with the resourcefulness of smart phones and GPS technology.
A company in Israel came came up with a product called Waze, which also used GPS application only that time it was mainly on mobile phones. It is also different as it is community driven because it updates traffic information from users who use the service. They use crowd sourcing to pull information and upload on the application for users to access traffic information. It is also free and downloadable as an app on iphone, blackberry, Nokia and Andriod Phones. Waze has received massive funding of over $50m and plan to monetize their service via location advertising. Being a world leader in traffic information, they are well positioned to sell advertising to their over 12m world wide users.The above examples, will work in Nigeria with good funding and technological advancement. But that is currently not available and so may be difficult to explore at least at this moment.
Twitter handlers like @Gidi_Traffic and @trafficbutter do not have a website to my knowledge which they can use their handles to direct traffic to. As such they may not be able to make money via advertising. However, they can use their handles to earn a living by tweeting promotional tweets for companies seeking to advertise products such as car gadgets, motor parts, filling stations, and even food and beverages. I believe if they both achieve at least 50,000 followers and above, they will have the moral latitude to promote such tweets with their handle. Nigerians know fully well, that their job is one of importance and usefulness and requires full time attention thus giving them the moral justification to eke a living out of it. Imagine a tweet like ‘today’s traffic update is brought to you by #cocacola” and then at the end of every tweet you have something like ” #3RDMB @ugodre: @Gidi_Traffic traffic on 3rd Mainland is slow but moving. #drinkcocacola”. I believe it is a model worth exploring as time goes on. This model has its own pitfall some of which are quite onerous but I believe if fine tuned may be lucrative.
Another way is to use premium text messaging for traffic updates. That way people send text messages to get traffic updates. MTN once tried in some years back but it wasn’t real time online and so never was quite effective. Besides it was quite expensive for a project that people didn’t find useful. If only they started out free for 6 months. It can actually be real time online if the Government inadvertently supports them. Imagine if for security reasons the LASG puts CCTV Camera’s on popular Lagos roads such as Third Mainland, Ikorodu Road, Eko Bridge etc. They are able to capture events on those roads as they occur which off-course help fight crime and save lives. With that feed, live traffic can be seen on the CCTV and streamed on TV and even mobile phones. I remember on a visit to the US a cable company called Cable Vision had live streaming of traffic on the Hudson Bridge and other metro areas in New York and New Jersey for their premium subscribers. That can also work here. With mobile phones, the government can sell rights to live traffic feeds to operators like Traffic Butter and Gidi Traffic who will then sell to premium subscribers on an app on smart phones. It can be monetized by selling adverts and/or asking subscribers to pay for live video feeds and pictures. For app based businesses the trend is usually to charge for downloading the apps at say N100 per download. Ten downloads can fetch N1m already. Free but limited downloads can also be avaiable with advertising as the source of revenue. Users can also be directed to websites which are built to show live or periodically staggered streams which can also be monetized via advertising.
All of this off course depends on the determination of “real” demand for their service. Real demand in this context refers to the will for users to pay in exchange for traffic update. More often than not, people naturally do not feel inclined to pay for a service that they ostensibly cannot do without. Imagine if you are asked to pay to own a facebook page will you pay? As for people like GidiTraffic, Traffic Butter and others who render this service or have intentions to on twitter, they should be encourage not only with accolades but with the desire to compensate them monetarily for the job that they do.