Mobile app amps up local solidarity during coronavirus struggle
Hazal Özcan – ANKARA
As the coronavirus outbreak lays waste to cities the world over, a mobile application developed by two Turkish entrepreneurs has been helping people around the globe meet their local needs by promoting “neighborhood culture.”
In simple terms, the pair’s application, “uLouder,” is a local communication program that allows people to get in touch with other residents in their neighborhoods.
The application is currently being used as a tool for local solidarity amid the deadly pandemic, whose global death toll accelerated sharply on March 23 to over 14,500 with over 337,500 confirmed cases.
The pandemic has completely upended lives across the planet, sharply restricting the movement of hundreds of millions of people, shutting down schools and businesses, and forcing millions to work from home. Many more, meanwhile, have lost their livelihoods entirely.
“As you know, local communication and societal solidarity are very important in situations like this. Unfortunately, during these times, we do not even know the name of our neighbor next door, let alone the people in our neighborhood,” Demirhan Erim, one of the founders of uLouder, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
“Unfortunately, we are living through a time in which all of humanity needs this application. We will continue to [pursue] our aim until we help out everyone,” he added.
People in the United States, Italy and Turkey are actively using uLouder, Erim said, adding that it is just catching on in Spain.
The application’s usage is quite simple, according to Erim. By downloading the program, users instantly join a local communication platform in their region.
“Volunteers share posts saying they can help the elderly with their grocery shopping. Neighbors meet their needs thanks to one another,” Erim said.
Mattia Lioce, one of uLouder’s team members, is working on the application in Italy.
With the coronavirus pandemic spreading rapidly across the world, Italy had recorded the highest number of cases (59,138) in Europe and the most fatalities (5,560) as of March 23.
The Italian government has imposed an unprecedented lockdown, closing schools and most shops, banning all but essential movement and ordering people to remain in their homes.
“As you know, every place is closed and people who have urgent needs, like a Band-Aid, announce such things through the application and find solutions by communicating via [the posts’] comments,” he said.
“In fact, we have seen that this solidarity solves problems much faster than normal,” he said.
Erim also said people under lockdown are requesting songs from each with the posts.
“So, people can experience the socialization they crave via the application,” he added.
All around Europe, people cooped up at home join together to sing songs from their balconies. Italy, unsurprisingly, has also joined the balcony-singing marathon in a bid to lift spirits during difficult times.
‘Creating an imaginary megaphone’
uLouder is completely free-of-charge and has no profit-making mechanism, Erim said.
“With uLouder, we are benefiting these people by becoming their voice and getting on top of their loneliness,” he said.
“The [application’s] name is uLouder. It means ‘You have more voice.’ We are trying to be the voice of everybody and put up a fight against loneliness by reviving neighborhood culture and local support,” he said.
Erim said he came up with the idea of such a mobile app after some incidents revealed people’s need to make their voices heard.
“This idea’s story began when a relative of mine, who lost [their] dog, wanted [their] voice to be heard by everyone around. [They] said, ‘If I shout right now and everyone looked around, we could find [it] quickly,” he said.
After that, Erim said he started to see announcements for blood donations. These announcements were actually “local,” yet people were looking for solutions in distant places due to a lack of efficient communication, he said.
“Then, I came up with the idea of creating an imaginary megaphone and placing it in people’s pockets or in their mobile phones,” Erim added.
After the idea was settled, Erim and his business partner, Can Poyrazoğlu, uLouder’s other founder, developed the app in 2015.
When asked why no one had developed such an application previously, Erim said other versions existed but failed due to technical difficulties.
“Their problem is the lack of content and that the first person who downloads the program cannot see nearby posts,” he said.
uLouder solved this issue by placing some important data beforehand and showing “sample posts” for users to share.
“There is no other application in the market that has five years of experience like us, strives to be beneficial to society, has team members from seven different nationalities and does not abandon its vision, which is especially prepared for such situations,” he said.
Still, the application’s software was not easy to develop, Erim said.
“If we want to set up a communication platform for people residing in the same apartment complex or neighborhood, we need everybody’s numbers or social media accounts.
“There is no application to automatically and instantly connect the people living in the same region other than uLouder,” he added.