Reporting moose sightings to radio stations or posting a comment on the social media website Twitter are two ways drivers in Newfoundland and Labrador are letting others know where to watch for the troublesome jaywalkers.
The makers of a new application for mobile devices hopes its interactive mapping systems to let users know exactly where to be on the lookout for moose will be another useful public safety tool for protecting highway travellers.
Officially launched Tuesday, Moose Watch NL is the co-creation of Levin Mejia and Matthew Hann.
It can be used on most smartphones as well as the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the iPad.
The idea for the application, or “app” for short, came more than a year ago during a night of brainstorming between the two men.
A frequent listener of call-in radio shows during his day job as an apprentice carpenter, Hann knew the issue of moose on highways in Newfoundland and Labrador was a growing concern.
“I knew people were constantly complaining about the moose problem, and (I thought) hey, why not make an app for it?” said Hann.
A seasoned techie working for Memorial University’s distance education department, Mejia took the lead on the development side of the equation. It took three months for the pair to develop an early version of the app. After discussions with the provincial government failed to create a partnership, the pair put the Moose Watch app on the back burner until the idea of using Twitter in combination with the map piqued their interest.
Users who download the application for free can log in to their Twitter account and make a post relaying information on where a moose is spotted. The user must include the text ‘#moosewatchnl,’ known as a hashtag for grouping posts together, in order for the message to appear on the application.
If the post is made near where the moose sighting is made, a location-based post or “tweet” can be made, which will instantly appear on a map included with the app.
Mejia stressed users should never be driving while making a post. They can check the application prior to travelling or have a passenger do it for them while driving.
On the day it was launched, the app was downloaded by more than 300 users, which they consider a good start. Its website at moosewatchnl.com attracted more than 1,000 visitors on the same day.
However, it has also attracted critics who question the usefulness of having another Twitter-based hashtag for alerting motorists about the presence of moose on roads. Many users of the social networking website are already familiar with the #moosenl hashtag. Some Twitter users Wednesday wrote that ‘moosenl’ involves the use of fewer characters and the introduction of the #moosewatchnl hashtag will create confusion for people wanting to alert other drivers about moose sightings.
But the creators of Moose Watch NL are adamant their application brings something new to the road safety table.
“It’s one thing to be able to just read it on a timeline, but it’s another thing to be able to see it visually on a map,” said Hann.
Development of the app was completed on their own dime, and while it is free for users, the creators hope sponsors will help cover the costs associated with refining and improving Moose Watch NL. “If you have the potential to save a life, you’re not going to charge people to pay for the application,” said Hann.
Mejia said they soon hope to make the app useable on BlackBerry smartphones.