A mobile app that helps people find toilet paper has taken off in Venezuela, where state price controls have led to shortages of basic necessities. The free Android service—dubbed Abasteceme, or “Supply Me” in English—has been downloaded more than 12,000 times since launching in June, enabling users to notify one another which stores have coveted products like butter and soap in stock. “Lots of things are in short supply, but what people are most worried about is finding toilet paper,” said creator Jose Augusto Montiel, a 21-year-old student.
This is not the first time crowdsourcing technology has empowered citizens in the developing world. In Kenya over 45,000 people contributed to Ushahidi, a platform for mapping post-election violence after fraught polls in 2008. In Egypt, HarassMap has collected reports of sexual harassment since nationwide protests began in 2010, resulting in a growing database of incidents ranging from catcalls to rape. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s socialist rulers have urged frantic shoppers to relax. “The revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper,” promised Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming. “We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down.” KdG