The Ma3Route Conundrum: Part 1




/kəˈnəndrəm/   noun    a confusing and difficult problem or question

I love Ma3Route. I use it daily. Why then, do I imply that Ma3Route is a conundrum, such a hard word to write, let alone pronounce. Well because I think that is what Ma3Route is right now, at least for me and a couple of like-minded souls. I am sure we all know what Ma3Route is and possible spend most of the rush hour time on it. I mentioned earlier in a post about ways to outsmart traffic and this was my number one suggestion. Note I did not refer you to their application, no. I referred you to their twitter profile. In my opinion that is the best implementation of their solution, if you compare to the application they have built on almost every platform a Kenyan uses. I’ve got to say, I don’t know any Kenyan app supported on so many platforms as this one is but the whole service is so wanting. It confuses me and hence the conundrum.

I have a feeling that this will be a lengthy article. For the sake of efficiency, I’ll probably do this in two parts, so get comfortable and indulge me.

Who is the target?

I will start with a simple question that plagued me when I first encountered Ma3Route. From that name, I just assumed it is meant to be a guide of the different routes that the matatus ply daily. Like most of you, I first learned about it from Twitter and thought that was all there was to it, however I did not see much about actual matatu routes. All I encountered was traffic updates. For the most part, I was satisfied. When I discovered that they had an application, I thought this is where the actual matatu routing was done.

If this was the initial purpose of the application, then I guess that didn’t work out as well. I don’t see it in the app. The feature exists but it is poorly executed. Let me explain. When I type in my location (which is fail number one, it should pick up where I am), I get a series of suggestions from stage numbers to misspelled suggestions of my location (I was using Hurlingham for my request) in multiples and I did not understand why this was the case. Why are there multiple entries for Hurlingham, all with different spelling?

Why are they 3?
Why are they 3?

I think the reason this exists is because at the top of that page there is a plus (+) sign allowing anyone to add a direction and make it available to everyone. This is a very lazy way of getting information for Ma3Route. What is to stop me from just adding my own things, which is evident from the search results? I get the whole idea of crowd-sourcing but for something as crucial as direction mapping and navigation, there has to be some kind of order.

Once I succeed on the search, all I got was a narrative that tells me  ‘go to point A, pick this matatu and alight at point B’. What is the difference of that from me stopping someone and them giving me the exact same narrative? At least they will point me to a direction which is a step further than the app. In short no value is added.

Oh wait! Just as you are about to give up and curse the world (extreme, I know) you see some ray of hope at the bottom of the screen in the form of ‘Driving Directions’ which takes you to Google Maps, which is good for me but bad for Ma3Route. Why? Because now I am out of their ecosystem and I’ll see how much better and easier it is for me to use Google Maps to get public transport navigation. Thanks Ma3Route! A person once asked on Ma3Route on what matatu to board to get to one place and I just referred him to Google Maps. Was Ma3Route watching?

In the end, I’m still confused. Maybe their target is not public transport navigation, probably it is for drivers.

So I drive around, is Ma3Route my companion?

Yes, yes it is! Ma3Route is your friend. Ma3Route answers your questions. Is it a lazy Sunday afternoon and you need to do some lazy Sunday afternoon shopping but once you get to the road you find a lot of not so lazy traffic jam and you are puzzled? Well, wonder no more, Ma3Route has the answer. Not Ma3Route the app, Ma3Route the twitter profile. That’s where I head to first. That’s my source of road information, because, surely there is someone at the front there who has the answer. That’s crowd sourced information at the very best. It is social and interactive. That is the advantage that Ma3Route has over other traffic apps like Waze. And this is a good thing, but only to some extent.

You see, as a driver it is okay and very beneficial to know what’s happening, but I would also want to know what I can do about it like alternative routes to follow. All I can do really is ask guys and hope someone will not scroll past to look at something more interesting and give me an answer, but who is to say a said person has the answer. I imagine a bigger entity, I don’t know like the moderator and provider of the said platform who receives all this information can be best fit to provide me such said information. The process is broken. Again maybe I got it wrong, is Ma3Route a social platform as it presents itself where people share their traffic frustrations, sarcasm, rants and pictures?  Maybe that’s it. Maybe it is a social platform. But why is it working out of another social platform?

Is it more of a society or a following?

I cannot even deny it, Ma3Route is society on social media. In fact, Twitter to be precise and there is a reason for this. Tweets are fast, simple and short and Kenyans love Twitter. Again note that I do not say they have a following on their app because honestly it looks like a third party Twitter app that picks Ma3Route tweets, not an actual application, but I digress. With almost 284,000 followers from all around the country it is obvious that they are filling an existing gap. It feels like a tight knit community where I can get my share of laughs, get entertained and a place I can share my frustration with others like we are in some sort of Alcoholic Anonymous support group. This is why I love Ma3Route and become attached to it, and this says a lot. Ma3Route has the numbers and the market, but surely this is not enough. You cannot leverage all your functions on Twitter. What if Twitter goes down, does Ma3Route follow? Maybe it should be a social network in itself.

My mother asked me to download Twitter for her so that she can access Ma3Route. What does this say? The need and market for what Ma3Route offers exists, but it’s on the wrong platform. I imagine great things for Ma3Route as to why I went on a rant here, because it’s tapping on a real thing. Traffic is one thing that is predictable in thing in all cities. That is a fact. Why not exploit this and offer way more value, even on a global scale.

I have presented a lot of questions here, with little answers. That is what I hope to give in the second part of this article. I write as a consumer of technology because I am one. I am not a developer or a strategist, just a consumer, a user. I will give my opinion on what I as a consumer would love to see. What are your own thoughts on Ma3Route? Is there an angle I have missed?