Mapping Myanmar's hotspots

A bilingual website launched by an Australian expatriate uses a map to show users the location of events and incidents reported throughout the nation by the Myanmar media.

“I’ve always liked mapping things,” said Rhys Thompson, referring to the website he launched earlier this month to record and provide alerts about events and incidents ranging from political protests to traffic jams.

MyanmarWatch.org, which contains information compiled mainly from vernacular press reports translated by Mr Thompson’s Myanmar “mates”, claims to be the first of its kind in the country.

Although initially targeting expatriates, Mr Thomson is hoping the bilingual website will also appeal to a Myanmar audience.

Mr Thompson, 32, a business consultant who decided to remain in the Golden Land after a three-year posting at the Australian embassy ended in 2013, said the website was launched in response to a  perceived need among expatriates for more information about what’s happening in their community or at business or leisure destinations.

“I find maps are an easy way to show what’s happening,” he said. The website features a map of Myanmar, with hotspots highlighting six “watch” categories: protests, crime, hazards, conflict, traffic and elections. The watch categories are marked on the map with different colours.

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Click on a hot spot and you’ll get the latest brief news update from that location. For example, a recent conflict watch report from Tedim in Chin State, under the headline “terrorism”, cited a link to an Irrawaddy report about a bomb explosion on October 19 that targeted a “specific ethnic or religious group”.

The website is limited to a formatted description of what, when and where an incident occurred, but does not go into detail about possible causes or who might be involved.

“It’s just to let people know what’s happening; I prefer to think of it as a snapshot,” said Mr Thompson, acknowledging that he does not have the staff to provide detailed online incident reporting.

“At least if you are going to the Shan State on business you can say, okay, there have been these attacks in these areas,” he said.

The website has potential to evolve into more of a breaking news platform, especially after Mr Thompson launches an Android-based app for the map next month, enabling it to use GPS more effectively than the website. That will hopefully lead to more “crowd sourcing” from users, but a possible downside is disinformation. Mr Thompson is hoping his tight format for factual reportage will limit the possibility for abuses. “And if it was something offensive or inaccurate I could just remove it,” he said.

Although the election is featuring prominently on the website, monitoring such incidents as campaigning, protests and vandalism, it will not go much beyond coverage by the media, though in a convenient nationwide format that lends itself to a snapshot overview. Mr Thompson acknowledged that the election had provided a good opportunity to publicise the website.

It is not necessary to register to access the website and Mr Thomspon does not see the site developing into an outlet for substantial advertising until it attracts a bigger following, which could take six months to a year.

“The aim of the site or the app is to encourage people to use it and for that is has got to be free,” said Mr Thompson. “No one is going to pay to report on an incident,” he said, adding that he’s not too worried about copycats. “If someone else wants to do something for free … okay.”

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