Mapping for masks
A local programmer has created a crucial website for those hunting for healthcare supplies
Infection cases of Covid-19 are now exponentially growing in Thailand, where the number of patients is expected to reach 1,000 in a few days' time.
Mask Map Thai website.
Although only one death has so far been recorded in the country, the unprecedented crisis has forced certain necessities to become scarce, especially surgical-grade protective masks.
As Thai society struggles to find masks during the Covid-19 pandemic, one programmer sat down at his computer to create something that would help everyone locate this necessity.
Last week, Facebook user Eggyothin Pila debuted Mask Map Thai. The website displays a map with real-time information on the location of shops that sell facemasks, as well as their amount and price. The information is mainly crowdsourced, with inputs added to the map by the general public. Two days after its launch, the website has attracted over 600,000 visitors, many of whom also help provide the shops' locations in several parts of Thailand.
"It took me two days -- six to seven hours a day -- to finish it," said Eggyothin over the phone. At 31, he currently works as a programming instructor. He was inspired by a similar map that provides real-time mask supplies in Taiwan, as well as the Covid Tracker platform by 5lab -- a software company in Thailand -- that tracks Covid-19 news in the country and plots its locations onto a map.
"I thought it wouldn't be a hard thing to do. I can do something, even as a small player. And if I succeed, many will be able to use it and benefit from it," he said.
Visiting the website, a map is shown with coloured circles with numbers denoting the location and prices at which the masks sell. Users can choose to search for the shop nearest to them. Clicking on the circle will show the name of the shop, number of masks, price and phone number. They can then get directions to the shop. On the other hand, those who have masks for sale can also pinpoint their location for buyers to find them. The website is currently available in Thai language only.
"There's still not really enough information on it yet," said Eggyothin. "There are provinces which have no information at all. Maybe people in that area haven't heard about the map yet. I think that if, say, government agencies see this information and find it beneficial, maybe they can see which areas in the country are still lacking in terms of masks and go help the people.
"I hope it benefits the state, too, not only the general public. I'm quite open. After all, I'm just the developer of this product. Its true owner is every Thai person."
Upon clicking on each coloured circle, a box appears and displays the mask-seller's information.
Surprisingly, even as a mask-map developer, Eggyothin admitted he still has a hard time securing masks for himself.
"I'll just focus more on exercising and try not to go out much."
Upon using the website, I was able to locate a pharmacy near my home which sells masks. However, when I visited the place, it was closed. There is currently no information available yet about the details of each shop and their open hours and days. Eggyothin said he will continue to add more features to the website, including more language options, types of items, verification systems, and more.
"As the information is mostly crowdsourced at the moment, anyone can add anything on the website, and so it may lack accuracy. There needs to be a verification process that allows other users to review and verify whether the price and items are accurate. I want to make the website in other languages, like that of Laos, as it's our neighbour country. And for other countries, too. I hope they will pitch in with information. This doesn't have to be limited to a single nation," Eggyothin said, explaining his future vision. He also aims to expand the website to include functions for people to alert others if they need help during self-isolation.
The programmer added that the map, in a similar model, can also be applied to suit different needs in life. Crowdsourcing information can help identify and locate accidents and spots that require the authorities' attention, for example.
In pulling off Mask Map Thai, Eggyothin said that while he's its sole developer, he's received help from different individuals working in IT and the online community, who got in touch with him following the website's launch. Many also suggested helpful features for him to develop and expand the website further, which he was grateful for. At the same time, the website does have its costs. He's currently shouldering over 70,000 baht in overheads for the server and map, and is in the process of seeking an alternative platform.
"That's one main area I need help in right now. And I hope the general public also helps by providing only truthful information to the map and not play or pull pranks on it, like pinning a location in the sea and others. There's really no time to check everything, and it will require everyone to help verify information in the future," said Eggyothin.
Individuals are taking matters into their own hands, stepping in to help in areas where the government struggles and fails to take care of its people. But to Eggyothin, this is not the time to point fingers or blame.
Eggyothin Pila, Mask Map Thai creator.
"[The government] is a big organisation and there are lots of procedures and steps to getting things done. It may be slow for some people's liking. I do understand both sides," he said.
"For those who can still help themselves, they can stand up and do things first before asking others for help. Other support can then come in as a backup in order for everyone to handle the situation better. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but we can't just stand still and do nothing, either."