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Can you use BBM to fight pollution? One community thinks so

BlackBerry’s native messaging service BBM hasn’t always had good press. It’s been blamed for inciting riots, and a number of governments have sought to control it. But how effective is it when it gets used for good?

The answer, apparently, is very as one South African community found out for itself.

The residents decided to harness BBM in their fight against the pollution of a man-made lake.

When the lake began giving off a foul smell, the suburb’s Residents and Ratepayer’s Association was asked to investigate. As a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation, it realised that it would need a cost-efficient and convenient way of mobilising volunteers and keeping residents informed.

Since a large portion of the community’s residents already used BlackBerrys, the Association decided to use BBM as a way to communicate about the pollution problem.The association claims the unlimited character length and photo-sharing capabilities of BBM made it ideal for its needs.

It therefore created a user group that was open to any community resident with a BlackBerry.

There were three reasons BBM was chosen over any other social network: the Association could easily set up a private group just for its residents; it can track whether messages are read or not; and BBM is an accessible app that lives on the smartphone that people take with them wherever they go.

In the end, pressure from the Association finally led to a solution. As it turns out a smelly swamp was forming near the dam due to low oxygen levels in the water. By re-oxygenating the water, the smell went away.

The association claims it was able to mobilise its members and successfully resolve the pollution problem, in part because of BBM.
“Every time there was new information that needed to be broadcast, we could do it immediately,” says association secretary Zaheer Khan. For example, at one point the local authorities proposed a solution to the odour problem but one of the residents knew that it had already been tried unsuccessfully in two other places.