YAMU – Digitizing Colombo (Article In The LT).

YAMU in the October issue of the LT

An article by YAMU’s Indi Samarajiva (AKA me) was in last month’s LT magazine. We just got a look at it. We’re featuring the text from the article below.

Colombo doesn’t come with a user manual. One way streets, moon-based holidays, nothing is self-evident. You have to know, or you have to know someone that does. So we started writing stuff down. That’s the website www.yamu.lk. It’s like wandering around with a friend, to start.

There are Colombo guides online, but they mostly take the form of a bunch of phone numbers and press-release prose about how everything is the first/best ever. But that’s not true, nor is it helpful. And it’s not how people talk. Colombo has a rich jungle telegraph, people telling each other what’s new and classic. It’s already spread to Facebook and Foursquare, but it still depends on who you know. We’ve tried to make that resource public, incorporating what we know from the jungle telegraph and what we can gather from social nets as well.

That’s yamu.lk. It’s a website, for now. Our business model (such as it is) depends on services. We’ve got a functioning bus map that can give you directions on public transit. That’s free. Public transit is still a hot mess, however, so we’re developing a paid service to help you find and call cabs. Right now, however, we’re just covering the city, geotagging everything, getting the opening times, all the little details that make it possible for other people to follow the trail and for the city to slowly go digital.

We’ve found some cool stuff. For example, O! Bar is probably the hottest drinking spot in Colombo right now, part of the booming Dutch Hospital Complex. We wandered a bit deeper into Fort and found some other (dodgier) watering holes. The New Colonial Hotel, for example, a vaguely art deco building across from the Fort Railway station.

We also got lamprais from all over and did a taste test (the Dutch Burgher Union was the best, but the new Dutch Grocer in Pamankada is a contender) and we’re currently trying all the Pilawoos in town, trying to find their spiritual center. Colombo is full of these little wonders and gems, and it’s a pleasure to go and find them out.

But that’s only one part of what we’re trying to do. That’s what we can do without stretching too much, but we’re trying to push the limits. With all these places we’re geotagging them, as a start. That means other people can find them on a map, and you can also find stuff nearby. We’re using that data to connect with transport networks, buses first, then cabs. We’re also databasing the times that places are open, so you can find where to get a drink or bite right now. But that’s not all.

The broader goal is to digitize Colombo, to make getting around Colombo (almost) as easy as getting around the web. Think about hyperlinks. When you click on a link you just get there, whether the website is based in Beijing or San Francisco. We’d like to do the same for Colombo, to make places into hyperlinks, so that you can click on a place and just go, like, a cab shows up where you are and takes you where you want to go. It’s obviously not instant but we’d like to make exploring this great city as fun and painless as possible.

That’s the dream. We’d like to write the user manual for Colombo and the software to go with. Which would be amazing. Right now, however, we’ve got a pretty decent set of reviews going, almost 100 with 75% bilingual (English/Sinhala) and about 25% trilingual (English/Sinhala/Tamil). Check it out and see where YAMU goes.

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