The concept of Bambuser, the service that allows you to live upload video from your smartphone, came from a final exam project Måns Adler worked on while finishing his studies. At the time, he pictured three use-cases for the project: the first involved a Grandma running late to her grandchild’s graduation, yet luckily was still able to watch the first half from her smartphone. The second was a father who couldn’t make it to his kid’s soccer game, yet was able to get it live-broadcasted from another parent. And the third case Adler pictured was an Iraqi filming daily life in Bagdad, or footage of soldiers shooting at civilians. “This was back during the Iraq war… and I saw a service like this useful for stuff maybe CNN wouldn’t publish or the U.S. government would object to.”
For a university project it was quite prophetic. As people have taken to the streets protesting governments and corporations around the globe, Bambuser has become a source of truth where emotions and media spin can cloud the facts. Despite the Bambuser website’s glowing stock images of couples filming each other on the beach, the service’s major impact has been on live-recording angry crowds, tear gas canisters, and riot police.
Since the first uprisings in Egypt last January and February, the folks behind Bambuser have been in email contact with a core group of initial Bambuser users to see what they could do to improve their service. The Egyptian users recommended a collecting tab on the application to make it easier to see all the videos coming in, which Bambuser was able to implement. But since that time, Bambuser and the activists have stayed in contact. When the activists mentioned that they would be holding training sessions to help monitor the elections in Egypt, Co-founder Måns Adler and current CEO Jonas Vig decided they should go to Cairo to meet their users and help with the training sessions.
The training sessions went well, and the elections in Egypt went by fairly peacefully. “What struck me is how the activists were using Bambuser,” Adler tells us. “We always pictured people using it as a tool to quickly pull up on the spot and broadcast, but the way [the activists] were training people to use it as more of a constant monitoring tool for the elections, was so much more strategic than I ever imagined.”
Still, there are obstacles activists face. “The issue isn’t the number of smartphones,” says Adler. “During the revolution in January I think 88% of the videos we got out of Egypt were Nokia phones. But the main issue for them is probably data plans, not everyone has one in Egypt.” On top of that, the government’s control of the interent is of course an issue, like when Egypt pulled the plug on the internet while Mubarak was still in power.
During their trip they wrote down and recorded live videos of their experiences on their blog, Watching the Watchers. It’s worth checking out; it’s interesting to watch two entrepreneurs realize and comprehend their product’s global impact.
To this, Adler says, “I mean it’s fantastic, but it adds a layer of… When you actually get to meet those people standing in the front lines, and shake their hands, and you can hold the rubber bullets they’ve been shot with, and they tell you I would be in jail if it weren’t for Bambuser…”
What Adler is referring to is a case this summer when a group was arrested after demonstrating outside the Israeli embassy. The police confiscated all the protestors’ phones, but one activist was able to slip his into his pocket. It’s a mostly all black video, but you can hear what everyone was saying. While it was still recording live, it was passed around by activists, and even made it on Al Jazeera. Before the group even made it to the police station there was so much media attention that the police didn’t dare hold them any longer, and were released. “If that weren’t the case, they might be among those 12,000 that went missing,” says Adler.
“Those moments are larger than being an entrepreneur. You know, that’s about life. In a whole different way.”
Top image by SierraGoddess on Flickr