Nepali software engineers and cyber entrepreneurs go boldly forth where few Nepalis have ventured
APPs for all occasions
In a country where only 10 per cent of phone users have smartphones, mobile internet is slow and expensive, where payment gateways are non-existent or unreliable, and ICT awareness is low, it may be a bit premature to talk about Made in Nepal apps. But that hasn’t deterred Nepali software engineers and cyber entrepreneurs to go boldly forth where few Nepalis have ventured. The trends are encouraging: one-third of Nepal’s 9 million internet users already access the Net through their phones, and as smartphones become cheaper their use is growing exponentially. Telecom companies are also eager to upgrade to 4G. We present products by Nepali app developers that show the most promise.
The Opinio App
In this digital era, billions of users around the world express their thoughts on blogs, social networks or in comments accompanying news articles. This is a gold mine for businesses that want to track what is being said about them, but it is a complicated process to track and analyse these opinions.
A decade ago, sentiment analysis emerged as a way to monitor opinions expressed on the Internet using algorithms using key words to chart what is said about whom and when.
“Basically, it is the process of crawling raw data on the web to segment them between positive and negative sentiments,” explains Chandan Goopta, a computer student at Kathmandu University.
Considering that there wasn’t much research on the subject around the world, Goopta started studying the domain for his thesis two years ago to analyse Nepali newspaper editorials.
While teaching elements of his research to Bachelor students in computer engineering, Goopta met undergrads who were eager to explore the subject further. “I was more into Big Data before,” says Amit Joshi, one of Goopta’s students. “But it’s more exciting to be able to interpret data for sentiment analysis.”
Knowledge acquired during research and a group of motivated youngsters were the base for the foundation of SentiNep in June 2014. Ashmit Bhattarai, Pratik Shrestha and Akriti Bhusar complete the team that conceived The Opinio app.
SentiNep worked continuously for the last six months to ensure the launch of the first sentiment analysis app of Nepal for the end of January. Its programming involved artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing.
The Opinio reads statements in English and Nepali. “As sentiments are often expressed in English and most of our press is in Nepali, we programmed it to be bilingual,” explains Akriti Bhusar, the designer of SentiNep.
The premium version of The Opinio offers an all-in-one platform that enables businesses to receive notifications instantaneously and reply to users on different social networks directly from the app. “That’s our key selling point as no one has time to lose,” explains Goopta.
SentiNep won the Corporate sector prize at NCell App Camp on 11 December 2014, and the developers say they have received good response from businessmen interested in the app.
Goopta is first to admit that not all opinions can be neatly quantified. Emotion is often nuanced. He says: “The Opinio can be a useful tool for businesses to understand their market, but often what users write on social networks is not what they really think.”
When you have too many apps, you need an app to navigate them. That is exactly what Google Play Store tries to do, and its Nepali avatar, the appropriately named Apps Jhola has come out with an innovative new app for Nepal’s growing number of smartphone users.
In Nepal, developers face problems in distributing their apps to global market place like Google Play Store due to lack of online payment channels. And searching Play Store for Nepali apps can make you dizzy. In order to facilitate domestic app developers and users alike, Semicolon Developers Network has come up with a perfect solution: Apps Jhola, an online marketplace for Nepali android apps. The developers have to pay $25 to release their app through the Play Store. “Although money may not be an issue, the lack of international payment gateways in Nepal hinders the process,” says Prabhat Man Shrestha, designer of Apps Jhola which makes it easier for developers to find a market and increase the user base while users can conveniently find home-grown apps.
“We are not competing with Play Store, we are just trying to provide an alternative to Nepali app developers and users,” says Shrestha. The app works only in android smartphones, and is not available in Google Play Store. Users will have to log in to the Apps Jhola website to download it, and just like a Google account is required for Play Store, users will have to open an account for Apps Jhola. While users can register for free, developers have to pay Rs. 1000 for a developer’s account after which all they need to do is upload their app and cite the price in both Nepali rupees and US dollars. The app will then be available for users to download on their desktop through the website and on android device through the Apps Jhola app.
Apps Jhola currently has over 60 apps in 15 categories. “The apps are screened for security and only good quality apps are uploaded,” said Shrestha. The team is also planning to add paid apps in future, the payments for which can be made through local payment gateways. “There are good Nepali apps available for a nominal price and now users can buy them through Apps Jhola, using local online payment services like Esewa and MoCo,” says Shrestha. For paid apps, Apps Jhola will get 30 per cent of the total cost for each download.
With developer’s account fees, revenues from featured apps and in the future shares from the paid apps, the team seems confident about staying afloat. “Of course revenues are important and with Apps Jhola it’s not just us who profit, the developers will benefit from it too,” says Shrestha.
When Sibjan Chaulagain visited his home village in Sindhuli, he realised that most farmers were not fully equipped with the knowledge to sustain their agrarian livelihoods and were exploited by traders. Seeing the scope of a platform to facilitate information exchange between farmers and traders, Chaulagain, along with fellow engineering student Avinash Jha, came up with the concept of IFA Krishi.
The Android app provides information on crop and animal diseases, organic and chemical fertiliser requirements, updated market information on pricing and weekly weather forecasts. Furthermore, it allows farmers to submit queries regarding their problems to experts from the agricultural sector.
The concept of IFA Krishi was initially developed as an SMS system and was tested out in a CEAPRED-ICIMOD led ‘Climate Smart Village’ in Kavre among 500 farmers, where they registered their crops in the SMS database. The content for the SMS system was sourced from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) and the information could be retrieved by sending a SMS code. Although farmers were trained on SMS reading and writing, the limit on the number of characters for each SMS posed as a hindrance.
“The web app was built with an interactive interface and is more user-friendly. The content is presented in English and Nepali and has an in-built immediate inquiry system where farmers can upload pictures of their crops and submit their problems, which will then be answered by experts from NARC,” says Chaulagain.
Since farmers and traders would not be aware of market rates, the app has regularly updated information on the buying price and selling price of crops. The app currently only receives rates from markets in Sindhuli, Banepa and Baneswor.
However, one of the biggest challenges for the duo is to convince farmers to make the switch from regular mobile phones to smart phones. Each farmer is given an ID and security code on registration where they would have to pay a subscription fee of Rs 10 per month. For now, most fees are covered by NGOs and cooperatives assisting their villages. “We want to collaborate with them so that the farmers see the benefits of smart phones and subscribe to our services on their own,” Chaulagain says.
Apart from revenue from the subscription fees, ICT plans on working with agro seed and feed providers collectively as well as services such as Hello Paisa to facilitate online transfer of money between different stakeholders in the agricultural sector. They plan to take it a step further too and discuss with mobile phone companies to preinstall their app on their phones and market it as a ‘Krishi phone’.
Jha says: “We want to become the medium to connect NARC with the farmers. Farmers are able to access information easily and NARC can reach out to the farmers through us.”
The app bagged the first prize of the Ncell App Camp competition and was also the winner in the agriculture category.
Since partially revamping its services, Sajha has shown that modern bus rapid transit is possible in Kathmandu. In a city notorious for unreliable and congested vans and three-wheelers, Sajha’s green buses are a sight for sore eyes with its proper ticketing system, automated doors, passenger load limit, CCTV cameras, display screens and even Internet services. All that was missing was the ability to see in a smartphone app how long it will take for the bus to arrive at a stop.
Enter Raj Kumar Shrestha, Rajiv Shrestha, Rupesh Karki and Nhurendra Shakya of Luniva Tech with their ‘Hamro Sajha’ app. The team noticed that commuters didn’t know how long they had to wait because buses were stuck in traffic. Now, passengers with smartphones can open a map of the route and small moving icons will show you the bus number, its location and approximate time to the next stop -- all in real time.
“Instead of waiting for the bus to arrive, passengers can now plan ahead and match their timings with the buses,” says Rajiv Shrestha, “this saves a lot of time and hassles.”
For now, tracking is available for two buses of Lagankhel to New Bus Park route and the coordinates for two more buses of Kalanki Sajha to airport route is currently being taken. The plan is to put geolocators on all 16 buses currently operating.
A beta version of the app is available on Google’s Play Store and the company is currently collecting feedbacks from passengers. If all goes well a public release is planned for 1 January. The app will also be available for iOS and Windows platform in the future and users can also receive information on the buses from their desktops and laptops as well.
The company is also testing an automatic public announcement system that will give an audio notification of the name of the bus stop.
When Manish Shrestha’s father got confused about the Mha Puja ritual last year, he joked that his son should make a mobile phone application to make it easier for people to get details of festivals. But the remark triggered an idea, and Shrestha developed it at Startup Weekend Kathmandu in September. The resulting app, Ritiriwaj, was the winner in the Education category of the Ncell App Camp last month.
“Our calendar is filled with one festival after another and most of the time we don’t even know why we are celebrating it or the procedures involved. Every ritual and festival has a reason behind it, and people have forgotten that,” explains Shrestha.
Shrestha’s team of five are hard at work researching Nepali rituals to provide contents for the app. “Due to migration people from the same community celebrate the same festival differently. We will try to include the original process and for that a lot of research is necessary,” says Shrestha.
The app will have the details including photos and videos of the festival, process involved and materials required for calendar events and personal events. Calendar events include festivals like Dasain and Tihar while personal events include rites and rituals from birth to death.
While the text will be free, the rest will be in-app purchases. Users can also purchase a complete package of materials required for any rituals through the app. “This way people don’t have to worry about any missing materials and the delivery will be free too,” says Shrestha.
A Beta version of the app will be available for android platforms on 1 January. In the first phase the app will only be available online, although an offline version is also planned. The team is also planning to make the app available in local languages apart from English and Nepali. Says Shrestha: “Since the rituals are local, the more localisation, the better.”
Out of 457 start-up ideas that participated in the Ncell App Camp Competition last month, one that stood out was Bhanchha that allows office workers with smart phones to source lunch from family kitchens in the vicinity.
The app allows demand and supply to meet – demand for food and supply available with homes in the neighbourhood. Although it is still in its test phase, Bhanchha will be welcomed widely by Kathmandu office-goers as well as families looking for extra income.
Bhanchha is an idea of five university students led by Ashish Acharya, a senior computer student from the Pulchok Engineering College and is based on the ‘dhaba’ lunch network in Mumbai, only this is done through the mobile internet.
“Pretty much anyone can provide the food on our platform,” said Acharya, “from housewives to restaurant owners, anyone who is interested in cooking and has time.” After their first step, they have contacted some chefs around New Road to establish individual profiles of amateur chefs.
Since many chefs may not have access to the internet, they are building an SMS system that automatically sends out SMS message to amateur chefs as soon as an order is made on the app.
As for the delivery, Acharya and his team provide two solutions. “The chefs can deliver by themselves, or when we grow bigger we can hire our own deliverymen,” Acharya explains.
The team is just on its fourth year in college, and plan to spend the new year developing the business plan and launch in early 2015.
Elaine Wang Yiwei
When Rohit Man Amatya visited Sri Lanka earlier this year, the signs in Sinhala befuddled him. This was when he realised that the situation must be same for tourists visiting Nepal. That was how the idea for a new app, Lipi (Script) was born.
A foreign land not only means exotic experiences and food, it also means navigating a while new culture and language. If you are a polyglot, language shouldn’t be a problem but for mere mortals, the task can be daunting.
Amatya’s team included Rupak Raj Ghimire, Ujjwal Devkota, Shalil Awaley and Milan Thapa and although Lipi may look simple (take a picture of any text using a phone camera), the app will translate it from Nepali to English and vice-versa.
Lipi uses two technologies, an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Machine Translation to provide translated texts for the images and uses Google Translation as its primary machine translation and Tesseract OCR engine. “The translations are not yet hundred per cent accurate, but it does provide the nearest match,” Amatya says.
The team is planning to launch a Beta version on the first week of February. “We will collect feedback for the first three months, improve it and then have a public release,” Amatya said, adding that the app will be available only on Android Play Store for the first phase and iOS users will have to wait a few more months for it to be available on their devices. For the time being, only ten translations per day will be available for free. If users want more, they either need to upgrade to premium or wait for another day.
Lipi will be useful to tourists visiting Nepal and Nepalis studying, working or sight-seeing abroad.
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