How Flashcast is bringing news to commuters in Kenya
A combination of SMS and GPS technology offers Kenyans a means to read and engage with news on their way to and from work, even with the most basic feature phone
In Kenya, where many people travel to and from work on bright-coloured matatu buses, GPS technology is offering news outlets a new way to engage commuters.
FlashCast delivers real-time hyperlocal news headlines to LED screens inside the buses, using mobile software that receives information specific to the vehicle's location.
Anyone travelling on the bus can then comment on the news via SMS messages, which appear on the screens almost in real time, enabling a Twitter-like conversation.
Speaking at this week's World News Media Congress, Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), noted how FlashCast allowed commuters to "engage in a conversation" around local news.
Launched in 2013, the service has so far reached more than 9.9 million people. The use of SMS technology to allow commuters to interact with the news means people can join the conversation even with the most basic feature phone.
Comments submitted via SMS are also fed back to the news outlets, providing a new medium for them to connect with audiences.
The FlashCast LED screen on commuter buses in Kenya (credit: Pedro Ramirez Paz)
However, it's not just news that FlashCast offers. As well as puzzles and games to make the ride to and from work pass quickly, it can also gain information to help improve healthcare and public services in Kenya.
A three-question survey on Family Planning, for example, got more than 4,000 responses in 72 hours, said Barnathan.
FlashCast has also opened up a new revenue stream for media outlets.
"The news organisations involved in this project are syndicating their content to Flashcast, and then sharing in the advertising revenue," Barnathan explained.
FlashCast was the 2012 winner of the African News Innovation Challenge, the brainchild of media strategist Justin Arenstein during his Knight Fellowship with the ICFJ.
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